Friday, May 12, 2017
The three most influential women in my life are my mom and my two grandmothers. They not only passed down genes and habits, some good and some challenging, they also set an example for how a woman can flourish, lead and encourage the flourishing of others. Lately I’ve been thinking about the storms they survived many years before I was born, and how their sorrow and pain would one day develop the love, faith and joy which nurtured me in my youth. Everyone who knows or has seen a photo of Vera Salmons, knows I have her grin. When my eyes are sometimes a grayish blue and other times an olive brown, I remember Rosie Benton’s caring eyes. I know I have her hips, if only I had her waist! And for anyone who knows Ann Salmons, there is no doubt I am my mother’s daughter, from our love of wonderful music, to our zealous love of crafting, we love to give our entire beings to our passions. I had hoped to share their joy in holding my own child this mother’s day, and instead I am holding the grief we share in the loss of a child.
Over the last several months, many mothers have shared their stories of miscarriage and child loss with me in the wake of our loss. Sometimes it is all a blur, because no matter how many months or years we knew our child, the grief is still raw and painful. We all yearn to love, be loved, and experience that mysterious connection of body and heart.
As we look towards Mother’s day, I am choosing to be thankful. I am thankful for the joys of motherhood I have felt for a short while. I am thankful for the many women who comforted me and walked with me through shadows and light during these past several months. I am thankful for my mother and my grandmothers. I am thankful for their love. I am thankful for their faith. Most of all, I am thankful for the strength I feel in my very being that they passed on to me. I am thankful that my parents can remind me of Granny and Mama’s stories, and I am thankful for the hope that I will one day share their stories with our children. Glory be to God, Alleluia. Amen.
Thursday, April 20, 2017
Lately I have been spending time in meditation before bed and/or in the morning. I find myself asking how I might view this time as prayer, or rather how I might restructure my prayer to learn from meditation. Here's my most recent exploration in a session of Christian Prayerful Meditation. May it inspire you to write your own.
Start by brining your awareness to the creation around you. Invite the Great I Am, God with us, to be present with you now. Notice how God has been here already waiting for you, smiling at you. See with your minds eye the beautiful and beloved created beings around you.
Turn your mind's eye to see the beautiful created and beloved creature that is you.
Visualize God looking at you with love and grace.
And as you see the loving eyes of God smiling on you, begin to notice the sound or your breath
Feel the air coming in and going out from your lungs.
Visualize the Breath of God, the Ruach of God, entering your lungs on the inhale, and on the exhale feel that Breath pass through your whole body. And on the inhale feel the Ruach breathe life into your bones and on the exhale visualize a fire being lit in the center of your being. Visualize you breath as gently tending to that flame, and allow your breath to soften. Now bring your awareness to the ground. Remember that from dust you came and to dust you will return. Feel your connectedness to the earth. Feel your connectedness to all of humanity. Visualize your connection to those who have lived and then entered the ground. Say a prayer of gratitude for how their experiences have impacted your present moment. Remember the one who entered this world as a one of us, a fellow groundling. Remember how God came to have earthly breath and life, born into this world as a little boy. That little boy grew into a toddler, a young kid, a teenager, and eventually a young man. Remember how he wept with those who had sorrow, remember how he fed the hungry. Remember how he healed the sick and gave sight to those who could not see. What do you need from Jesus in this moment?
Listen for the voice of the Great I Am present with you here in this moment.
Close your prayer with a word of gratitude and open your eyes to continue seeing the world through God’s loving eyes. Glory be to God. Amen.
Friday, April 14, 2017
Last night we celebrated a small portion of the Jewish Seder meal during our Maundy Thursday celebrations. As we read through the blessings and declared the truth of God's deliverance, I heard echoes of our experience. Earlier in the day, as I was preparing the saltwater, I was tasting it to be sure the balance was right, and the warm drops on my fingers tasted like my own tears. A few weeks back, a friend of mine had reminded me of the beautiful children's book Tear Soup. She brought it to me a few months into my grief and recovery, and I told her, I had already made several batches of "Tear Soup" this spring. That friend was busily helping prepare communion as I looked at the pot I had selected to make the saltwater, and I realized I had literally made a pot of tear soup! I couldn't wait to dip my greens and celebrate the blessings of God with the taste of the bitterherb and tears on my lips. When we finally did begin the Seder portion of our meal, I felt the joy in my bones as we read the blessing of the first cup, glasses raised: Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who have kept us in life, sustained us, and brought us to this season of joy! As I broke the bread of affliction, I felt the strength of God's people who have endured affliction after affliction and still found a voice to sing of God's deliverance.
Now I'm trying to muster up the strength for Good Friday, trying not to think about Holy Saturday. I'm incredibly excited for the different kind of "good" Good Friday service we have set before us. Back in January our youth choir director and I decided that we would pull together singers and orchestra players to perform John Rutter's Gloria. I had no idea how that would shape the formation of a worship which usually accents the frailty and horrible nature of humanity. Our service tonight is a testimony of Christ's faithful and unwavering, passionate love for us. This is the "good news" about Good Friday: God has already chosen us for this life, and God continues to choose to be connected to us, despite our mistakes, all so that we can find true wholeness, all to discover true goodness in this life and the next.
The prelude and postlude for tonight's service is a playlist of New Orleans Jazz funeral music. We will walk the stations of the cross, to the beat of he drum which knows the end of the story. May the beautiful blend of joy and sorrow fill my feet to carry me through the silence of Holy Saturday, so that we might find light and life at that sunrise service Sunday morning. Jesus was with me in my suffering, and he will lead me into wholeness, where sadness and joy make one another complete.
Thursday, April 06, 2017
I’ve been journeying through Christine Paintner’s The Way of the Pilgrim. Her books have given me space to connect my creative energies and spiritual yearnings. This book does a phenomenal job of accompanying any kind of journey, whether it be a pilgrimage of discernment or renewal. For me, the chapters have acted as a general leading on the road to physical and spiritual healing during my journey of grief and recovery. One of the exercises was especially meaningful for me and I wanted to share it with you. I had read her blog posts which introduced the sacredness of crossing a threshold, and her chapter gave even more depth to the encouragement to take that step from the known into the unknown, walking with hope for what is to come. We were invited to write a reflection as Miriam after praying with the following scripture. I felt her somber cry of Alleluia, filled with tears of sorrow and joy. May God continue to give me a song to sing, and a voice to speak for hope in the darkness.
When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and charioteers rushed into the sea, the LORD brought the water crashing down on them. But the people of Israel had walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground!
Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced. And Miriam sang this song:
“Sing to the LORD,
for he has triumphed gloriously;
he has hurled both horse and rider
into the sea.”
New Living Translation (Ex 15:19–21)
Miriam: My brother led the walkout. We knew it was coming, but all of a sudden, we were packing up everything and leaving the only home we ever knew. We headed out towards the desert and found ourselves at an impasse. Do we cross the river or go around? Before we could decide, Pharoah’s henchmen were gaining on us and Moses was forced to take a chance and lead us through the River bank. We made it through, everyone of us, as if on dry ground. When we reached the other river bank the waters roared behind us and threw Pharoah’s men into the sea. I couldn’t believe it. The sight was horrifying and tremendous all at the same time. We were saved, others dead, everything behind us and nothing but an empty freedom before us. I picked up my tamborine and sang. We sang alleluia. Suffering behind us and suffering before, but today, we will sing Alleluia, Amen.
Friday, March 24, 2017
Since I am a book nerd (whose memory has been very weak, trauma+life changes = sore memory), I turned to some of my resources to find a definition for Alleluia and begin with a more literary approach. They reminded me that Alleluia is the English version of the Hebrew Hallelujah, which translates as Praise the Lord, Praise be to Yahweh, the one who is, the Great I Am. The word shows up mostly in the Psalms, and especially in 113-118, which the Jewish tradition refers to as the Hallel. The Great Hallel is psalm 136. Scanning through these psalms you see phrases of favorite hymns and contemporary Christian songs. These are literally hymns of praise. "What a better starting point?" I thought.
So, I began with the first one, Psalm 113.
1 Praise the Lord! Yes, give praise, O servants of the Lord.
Praise the name of the Lord!
2 Blessed be the name of the Lord now and forever.
3 Everywhere—from east to west—praise the name of the Lord.
4 For the Lord is high above the nations;
his glory is higher than the heavens.
5 Who can be compared with the Lord our God,
who is enthroned on high?
6 He stoops to look down on heaven and on earth.
7 He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump.
8 He sets them among princes, even the princes of his own people!
9 He gives the childless woman a family, making her a happy mother.
Praise the Lord!
Tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t believe it. Did this Psalm that I read as a background study for my art exploration of grief just speak directly to me by name? These were psalms written by men weren’t they? Could this have been written by a woman like me? Could this have been written by her husband? her child? her parent? Part of me searched for some message from the Holy Spirit, as if the phrase, “he gives the childless woman a family, making her a happy mother,” somehow meant I would be with child any day now. Part of me wanted to point to this coincidence and see it as a promise that I wouldn’t be childless forever. And yet part of me recognized that this woman still receives both names, and I already have had both of them too…and my whole goal with this is to find some happiness, some joy left within me.
At times I feel like the medical term “failed pregnancy” overlaps in my brain to name me a “failed mother.” You or I can try to console my heart by saying this isn’t true, and yet as sure as the term is written on my physical history, it is also written on my spiritual record. Ironically, I wonder if all mothers don’t feel this way from time to time when they see the hopes they had for their children fall apart. How many of us feel like failures every day at other things which we care so deeply about and seem to have trouble seeing results. Does joy come from success only? Do we have to find success to find joy?
Where does the "happy mother’s" joy come from? Does it come from her children? Does it come from a joy in her daily tasks? Does it come from the balance of family and career? How does a childless mother find happiness when there is nothing to balance?
My favorite part of painting is in the mixing and discovering of pigments. When I can’t seem to decide what to paint, I start with the colors and then go from there. My logical brain says this is backwards, but my explorer brain enjoys the process. When I’m finished, I always feel refreshed and rested, and today I had some thoughts on why that might be. When I look at the colors in wonder, I am amazed by their beauty. The best way to describe this sense of awe is to say that I take joy in seeing the colors form on the page. I take even greater joy seeing them change and develop into something with character and meaning.
Could this be where joy comes from? the moments of pause when we wonder and appreciate beauty? Is that why a mother gazing at her child looks so happy? It’s not pride or success, but true awe and enjoyment in beauty.
This is a definition of Alleluia I can do. I can look for beauty and hold on to the promise that there is still goodness and beauty present with us here and awaiting us in the moments, days and years to come.
Saturday, March 18, 2017
In some communities they bury the alleluia’s at the beginning of Lent or just before. I’ve never done it, but I know people who have. They’ve told about how they “fast” from celebrating during this season as a way of lamenting the injustice and pain in the world. Essentially it’s like a season of constant confession without jumping to the assurance of forgiveness and good news. The music is droll and the prayers are full of cries for mercy. On Easter Morning as they tell of Jesus' resurrection, they pull out the Alleluia’s and celebrate, now with a renewed exuberance.
I’ve always been fascinated with this tradition, but somehow I forget about it until the week before Lent and then it’s too late to institute the burying of the Alleluia’s. So it never seems to happen. This year I was choosing hymns for our first Sunday of Lent and as I thumbed through the hymns for preparation for Communion, I came across “Come, Behold, the Feast of Heaven,” which ends each phrase with an Alleluia, with the same tune as “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” I paused to think how these two hymns could act as book ends holding up Lent as a space in between, seeing our practice of communion as both looking towards the meal to come on Maundy Thursday as well as the meal to come in the end of this life and the beginning of the next.
I had a very different theme and sermon already prepared at that point. It was one of those times that I felt like the sermon had already been given to me, and I felt like the message was complete in what the Spirit was calling me to say...and yet I felt this tug to say something separate that wasn’t quite completed in my soul, like an ember that was starting to burn, but hadn’t quite caught fire yet. So, I kept thinking about the Alleluia as I prepared for worship in the coming days. Several weeks prior I had purchased a coloring sheet from Illustrated Children’s Ministry which had the word Alleluia and a beautiful butterfly. They encouraged providing two versions of the coloring sheet to your congregants, one with pictures in the wings and another with blank spaces for those who felt called to draw their own images of alleluia. You could color it and then bury them until Easter or you could just color them on Easter. So, here I stood. I had the hymn, I had the physical Alleluias, I had the time to prepare and put directions and an explanation in the bulletin which we print in a crazy amount of time in advance. And yet, there was something holding me back. Something within me felt like I could not bury the Alleluia.
Instead, I felt this incredible yearning inside to pick it up. I wanted to pick up the image of the Alleluia and hold onto it for dear life. So, that’s what I did.
If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I had a tragic loss in my life and traumatic physical complications about a month prior to Ash Wednesday. I could tell you the story of my loss and my medical condition again, the story of my endurance and recovery process, but that’s another story unto itself. For now, I want to begin sharing with you about this current journey of picking up the Alleluia. I did not end up changing the sermon or introducing this idea with my congregation that Sunday, I had to start working through it first. I’m starting to write about this process now, and I wanted to share it with you.
As I invited my congregation to prepare for communion that Sunday, I did invite them to choose to pick up the Alleluia, “if like me, you need a little help singing today.” I just let the idea hang in the air, and that afternoon, I started to paint. I had been dreaming about filling a journal with alleluias as I tried to visualize what it might look like to “hold onto an Alleluia." So, I ordered some carbon paper to trace the butterflies from Illustrated Children’s Ministry into my journal. I figured even if I couldn’t think of what to put in the blank spaces, I could at least trace and paint the images already provided and hope to go from there.
If you find yourself in a place where it’s hard to be joyful and even harder to sing for joy, I invite you to start dreaming of what it might look like to celebrate the goodness in our world, and then, if you can fathom it, begin to dream about what it might look like to celebrate the goodness in this moment, inside you, in the place of emptiness in your life. Ok, maybe that’s too far too soon, but we’ll get there. Even if you can’t fathom it, maybe you can dream it, and if the dreams only look like tears right now, you can start here with me. May the Spirit which imagines Life for all things speak to your heart. Amen.
In case you can't read the scriptures around this first Alleluia, here they are:
Hebrews 12: 12
So take a new grip with your tired hands and your weak knees.
Hebrews 12: 1b, 2b
Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us...Because of the Joy awaiting him, Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame.
Monday, February 27, 2017
My reflections on the importance of wearing ashes this year. I wrote this last week, but finally felt strong enough to share it today. Warning: Contains reflections on our pregnancy loss.
I am typically a cheerful person. When I go through a dark time, I can always find that happiness and joy at my core. You might say I am seriously cheerful, not goofy cheerful, but I usually can find a way to see any glass as “capable” of being full. So, each year, Ash Wednesday is typically a sobering reminder of our humanity and capability of being empty, so that Christ might fill our hearts once again.
This year is different. Lately, I have been sad at my core. Sure, there is the state of our country. There is the state of our world. This article is not about politics, but feel free to read it that way.
We lost our baby in January, I developed severe preeclampsia, and I had to go through labor for a child who had already died. It was the worst experience of my life. I held tightly to my husband’s hand. I held tightly to Jesus, constantly seeing him on the cross suffering alongside me, and several times, I thought of Simeon’s words to Mary, the mother of Jesus, which were just too recent in my memory, “And a sword will pierce your soul.”
More than ever, I became aware of my mortality in a very real and sobering way. If it were not for my talented Doctor and nurses and their use of modern medicine, and the grace of God, Robbie might have lost both of us that day. And I know that possibility was ever present in our hearts throughout the night.
In the coming days I clearly felt the emptiness of my womb which heightened the silence in the room. The ironic and painful fullness of my breasts only more vividly illuminated the emptiness of my arms. My overflowing tears clearly echoed the emptiness of my heart.
Now, I am standing a week away from Ash Wednesday and feeling like a simple cross on my forehead is not enough to show the real pain I feel inside. Where are the days of covering ourselves from head to toe in ashes and literally ripping our clothes. I’d like to rip all of my maternity clothes in half, but my logical self stops me, because then I would have nothing to wear today and nothing to wear when I do become pregnant again. My emotional self wants to do it anyway. My emotional self says, “Good. Then everyone will see my nakedness and know how deeply sad I am.”
All of this pain, for a child I never met, a child whose laugh I never heard, a child whose cry I could never answer.
More than ever, I recognize that when I receive those ashes on Wednesday, they will be an outer reflection of a real pain that exists in this world, not just in my heart, but many others.
How many other mothers feel sorrow for the loss of their children, whether unborn, 8, 24, 45, 64 or more? What about the fathers, the grandparents, the aunts and uncles, the brothers and sisters, the children, the grandchildren and more. Death separates us and has the capacity to keep us isolated in our grief, our blame, our shame, and our regret. Sure, we could continue in our old tradition and cover ourselves with a vivid reflection of our singular pain.
Instead, we Christians choose to receive a mark of solidarity. The ashes in the shape of a cross on our hand or our forehead do not symbolize our singular sin, or our singular grief. They do not mark us as better than others or separate from our fellow human beings. They symbolize the mortality of humanity, and Christ’s suffering for all of our pain. Christ suffered for the pain we cause on one another and for the pain of living and dying in this world. He suffered so that he would know our brokenness, and take on any punishment that we deserve, so that one day we could experience true wholeness and freedom from pain.
As sad as I am, those ashes will declare my recognition that I am not alone, you are not alone, and great pain exists in this world.
As defeated as I feel, the cross will declare my belief, that death does not have the final word. One day pain will end, and we will discover the wholeness of life and love. If we are lucky enough, we will get to experience that in this life, not because we are lucky enough to have a glass that is always full or even half full, but because we have experienced how truly empty the glass can be, and we are brave enough to let someone else fill that cup, even if only for a moment.
Saturday, February 18, 2017
Puzzles have helped me set a pace for my healing. They’ve given me something calm and low stress to do with others as they visit and sit with me during my recovery. Although we didn’t have anything to taste, I made pies with my mom without having to roll them out and do any physical labor. With various friends we enjoyed the fantastical world of Beauty and the Beast and I gained a whole new respect for Thomas Kincade. We also studied the noses and mouths of the Seven Dwarfs, tigers and several dogs. I’ve quite enjoyed seeing the pieces coming together—how mystery pieces look different than I imagined, all the details we discovered, a beautiful sky coming together.
The metaphors are endless when it comes to puzzles, so I’ll stick with my favorite verse which sums up my joy of puzzling over the time during my transition.
"Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” New Living Translation (1 Co 13:12–13).
Wednesday, February 08, 2017
During my pregnancy I started an afghan for our little baby. At that point I didn’t know the gender, but I knew our child was destined to be an adventurer and a gamer;) So, I set out to create a Catan Afghan. If you are unfamiliar with the game Settlers of Catan, here is a sample board. Our friends on Facebook have most likely seen a posting of our Star Wars Catan board, which we frequently take to a coffee shop for date morning/night.
Even my friends in the Czech Republic will remember how we played this game in English Class and on Youth trips. You collect resources of Clay, Wheat, Sheep, Wood, and Ore to build roads, settlements, or cities and pay your soldiers. This game was part of our courtship and has made our marriage grow stronger as we learned to laugh together, argue with open ears, and forgive each other with Grace. We are each other’s “worthy adversary”.
Since November I’ve been making crocheted hexagons to match the tiles on the board and the water surrounding the island. It seemed a shame not to complete this awesome creation, even if he would never get to play on it like I imagined. Instead, it has served as a sort of blanket of healing for me.
When we came home from the hospital, I took out the tiles and counted up how many more I had to do. Only a few more hexagons, and I would be ready to lay out the board. I was so pumped, and the final hexagon was the most perfect I had made, so I decided to make it the center piece. When the greatly anticipated time to lay out the crocheted board came, I felt satisfied and filled with hope.
As you can perhaps tell, “pumped” was the key word from the description of my laying out the afghan before me. Working on the afghan didn’t actually help lower my blood pressure. If fact, I had to pace myself, because sitting up and working on something engaging would raise my blood pressure. Working on the afghan has been a lot like the physical and emotional healing process—even if you know the steps you have to take, you still have to go through the painstakingly slow process of one step at a time…skipping steps only knocks you further back.
Crocheting the final hexagons and beginning to connect them, I imagined God continuing to knit or crochet in my womb. Women who have been through labor or pregnancy will attest to the cramping and activity you feel as your womb begins to shrink. For weeks now I have felt like they were almost ghost pains from the labor and an unfortunate reminder of what is not longer in my womb. I prefer to think of it as God working to heal my womb as I am continuing to work the yarn on my afghan.
Monday, January 30, 2017
Reflection after week one of recovery:
Rest. I thought I knew how to rest. I know many relaxation techniques and many tools for meditation. I have many activities that I consider "restful and rejuvenating", and yet, I have been forced to rest in a whole new extreme this week, when even crocheting on the couch made my blood pressure rise to an unhealthy level. Thanks to my doctor we finally have my blood pressure maintained with the right medication. Thanks to my sister and husband who had a knack for noticing when I was getting too active and needed to lay down on my side, I survived without any complications.
By Friday I was extremely tired of resting, and I realized I had been skipping the first step in relaxation or meditation: awareness. So, I started to do an awareness scan of my body, and I realized why I had been skipping that move. First of all, my mind was still in disbelief that my womb was now empty, and secondly, at my core I was achingly sad. Most parts of my body were resisting something, and when I imagined a visual of my heart, it was extremely tired and full of sadness. I called Robbie into the room, since we have promised each other that we wouldn't get on the grief train alone, and he held me while I let go of a huge wave of grief. Frustration and anger are still pretty buried inside me, but the sadness and the terror that this is all actually happening flowed out or rather was allowed to come to the surface.
Each day since I've been choosing to do a body scan to help me take a nap, and both my napping and grief have progressed. One major factor we've seen this week is that knowing a lot about grief and prayer and God doesn't put you on some express train to feeling better or moving through the stages of healing and grief at an easier or quicker rate. Our theology, however, has kept us grounded and connected to each other. Even when I did feel the anger coming up to the surface, I didn't know where to aim it. I know I can't blame myself, I can't blame Robbie, I can't blame my doctor, but I didn't want to blame God. And in that moment when I felt the anger beginning to burst, I heard God saying,"Come on, let me have it. I can bear it. Jesus bore all of your anger and pain on the cross already, so let me have it." It wasn't an angry voice like in Job. When I see the sentence now, it reads like a challenge. But when I heard the voice it was very comforting, reassuring, strong, full of knowledge, and able to withstand all the anger and pain I have buried.
If you're reading this, you've most likely been praying for us and/or experienced this kind of loss yourself. Thank you for your prayers, and for those of you who have been echoing our grief, our hearts break for you, too. May you hear God's reassuring voice as well, and may you feel the freedom to "let him have it."
Sunday, January 22, 2017
On this Sabbath day, we found many ways to rest. At times, resting meant napping or reading with Maggie. For me, resting also meant baking. Ree Drummond has this awesome cinnamon roll recipe which takes a little work with hours of rest in between. The perfect recipe for a Sunday of healing. There is something prayerful and meditative about feeding yeast and kneading dough. After I was done making three large trays of cinnamon rolls, I realized it was a lot of work...but it seemed a perfect way to connect with my word for the year, "savor."
My word for the year almost seems like a cruel joke to me at times now. How can you tell a young mother to savor each moment when she just lost the child who should be feeding and savoring the milk from her breasts? How can you tell a no-longer pregnant woman to savor the delicious food in front of her when suddenly she can eat whatever she wants and everything tastes a hundred times better, because her taste buds have finally re-turned to normal, because she is no longer supporting the baby she used to have inside her.
At other times the word seems like an essential and necessary gift for me in this process. Choosing to savor the moment, means choosing not to resent this pregnancy, this baby boy. Choosing to savor this moment with my spouse, means choosing not to shame him or myself by continuing to question if we could have done anything different to prevent this from happening. Choosing to savor the moments I will have with my friends, means choosing to share our pain and our hope, instead of hiding in a cave or rejecting their help.
It reminds us to savor each other, to savor our joyful memories from the last 24 weeks. It helps understand the words of our dear friend Rose, "The gift of joy that you have been given can never be taken away." Savoring those memories instead of resenting them helps us to grasp onto the joy which feels out of our reach.
Saturday, January 21, 2017
Since I process through my writings I will be posting some of the words which give voice to our grief process which can be helpful for you to know how we are doing, as well as, hopefully, provide language for others who have been or will go through times like this in their own unique circumstances.
For instance, I was telling him this morning that when I go out in public, I want to wear a button that says, "Warning, I just lost my first child. Treat me with compassion, but please do not ask me how I am doing. Neither of us can handle the pain right now."
Robbie: I want mine to say, "Don't tell me it will be okay, don't tell me a story of hope, just give me something normal."
We've been describing the grief process as a sort of runaway train, which you can try to get off or try to stop or pretend that your not on, but no matter what you do, you're already on it. Incomprehension fuels this runaway train of grief, and the more we avoid the pain, the faster and more reckless it goes. When we talk and cry and let out our emotions, the train does indeed slowdown and become more controlled, not because things get better or easier, but because the unreal becomes more real and the incomprehensible becomes comprehensible. You are never on the train alone, but you can choose who you sit with on that train. We are choosing to sit with each other and we are very thankful for the friends who are sitting with us through this terrifying and hopeful experience.
Our faith is our foundation through this experience, as we testify to our belief that the same God who was knitting Bob together in my womb is now playing at his side in the new life which is promised for us all.
Thank you for reading, thank you for your prayers, and Christ's peace to you who are also grieving.
Monday, January 16, 2017
Have you chosen a word for the year? My word for the year is SAVOR. As a pregnant woman with lots of aversions, this word may mean more to me than it does to you. And that’s the point of it. Below is the text from my sermon on Sunday which shares about the traditions of choosing a word or words to guide us through the year. If you’re in Manhattan, you can stop by First Presbyterian and pick up one of the verses on stars, doves and crosses. If you'd like on in the mail, send me a note! If you would like a method to choose your word for the year, you can follow the instructions suggested in the sermon. Blessings on your year!
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
3 And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
Last week we reflected on the journey of the Magi who had been called on an expedition to find this new King of the Jews. I wonder what their motivation could have been to follow that star they saw in the heavens. Did they travel through weather and physical challenge out of duty? Did they seek persistently out of curiosity? Whatever their motivation, they too were answering a calling to meet Jesus, to experience the living presence of God. When they answered that call and they followed the star, they experienced an epiphany that changed their lives forever, and sent them in a new direction.
Like the Magi, we are at a precipice, approaching a new season of life. As we begin this new season, with a new President, a new school year, new experiences, we must continue to follow the star, looking for hope, looking for Jesus, beyond epiphany, beyond the journey to Bethlehem. We continue to look for The Light of Christ, as a calling to seek Jesus in all that we do, in everywhere that we go.
When we make New Year’s resolutions, they tend to look backward. We vow to right the things we did wrong last year, or improve on our shortcomings, or somehow lessen our regrets from the past. These resolutions fail when they are merely reactions to the symptoms in our lives, seeking a perfection of this world, rather than the life that Jesus wants to give us. Our faith calls us to look towards the future and to do so with hope, trusting in God’s hand and God’s faithfulness. This forward thinking enables us to set goals, so that instead of merely reacting to daily problems, we are setting goals for a longterm plan, following the star over hills and valleys, even when the days get hard.
When companies want to look towards the future and develop longterm goals, they frequently turn to consultants or look towards their leaders to develop a strategic plan. A bit different than mere resolutions at the beginning of a season, these consultants look at the true identity of the company, what gifts they have to offer, what challenges they face, and what hope they have for the future. Many of you, I’m sure have experienced this, if not in your own business, but maybe in this church. The cards in your pews reflect some of the work of the Planning Committee and the Membership Committee as they sought to give us the phrase, First in Worship, First in Family, First in Service.
One of my favorite methods I have used with groups or organizations follows a little book I found years ago called One Word that Will Change Your Life, by Jon Gordon, Dan Britton and Jimmy Page. They begin by sharing stories of how their method could be used in your personal life, your family, your school, your work, your church, your sports team or any of your other organizations. They advised the Atlanta Falcons, years ago, leading them each to have a personal word to use as a guide for the year. Even their head coach, which at the time was Mike Smith, chose a word. His word was “Finish,” because he wanted himself and his team to finish strong in everything they did.” He described the powerful impact that the word had not just on him but also his team.
Their method is quite spiritual, as the first instruction is to Prepare Your Heart and Look In. After unplugging from the noise and activity around you, they invite you to focus on three essential questions:
- What do I need?
- What’s in my way?
- What needs to go?
What challenging questions. (read them again) So often we get caught up in trying to accomplish the first one that the challenges in our way or other burdens or commitments keep us from reaching that first necessary essential. By considering what stands in our way, and confessing the things we need to let go of in our lives, we can move forward and grasp what we need to accomplish our larger goal in life.
The final step is to "Look up, to plug in and listen up." They put it this way in the book, “Once you’ve prepared your heart, you are ready to receive your word. God has a word that is meant for you. Remember, God can use all means to communicate with us and you never know when, where and how your word will be revealed to you.”
There are several monastic traditions which tell of the spiritual giving of words from an even more spiritual aspect. At times, followers would request a Word and after prayer and reflection, a monk would deliver a word sent from God to them. Perhaps it would be a singular word or scripture.
There’s a fascinating story of a student who asked Cassian the Monk for a method of unceasing prayer, and he ended up learning about the practice of prayers from those teaching in the Egyptian Desert. They would be given one line of a psalm which would become for them a leitmotif or essential theme to everything the monk did, from daily work tasks to their daily scripture readings. This verse would become the lens through which they saw the world.
I can remember a similar experience I had when someone send me a verse of scripture when I was going through a particularly dark time. I had an injury in my hand which was keeping me from playing flute, and I wasn’t quite at the point where I had to choose what to do next, but I was definitely at the start of a new season, and wondered why God had allowed this to happen to me and where I would go next. A dear friend sent the epiphany to me in the mail, and the scripture stayed by my bed throughout that season of my life. It was the same words that were given to Joshua as he was stepping up to lead the people of Israel after Moses: The Lord said, "This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
Whether it is a single word or a verse of scripture, these traditions hold to these words as a guiding light to see the world and face everyday challenges. In either method, this light comes from God and draws us to God. Jesus came to be the light and to draw us into the light which shines so that all the world might have the ability to see clearly, and see beyond the darkness which would seek to overtake us.
Today I invite you to receive a Word from God. In a moment we will pass the offering plates again and this time you will take an object rather than placing one. You will find stars, doves and crosses that have scriptures on them, and I challenge you not to read them and make a choice, but to allow the spirit to choose for you and merely take one as it comes to you.
When you take this scripture home, read it again, and put it somewhere you will see it regularly. Read it from time to time and let the words sink into your mind, into your breath, and into your bones. As the words return to you in your challenges and moments of Joy, may you encounter the True Word of God, Jesus, the Living Word made flesh. May the star guide you to meet him and may it continue to guide you to experience grace, peace, joy and a life full of hope.