Tag Archives: death

Heartache and Light

Seven years ago today I suddenly, unexpectedly lost a friend, a colleague, my boss, the senior pastor of our church. In that one day, many things changed for many of us. For me, it began a seven year journey of challenges that are best described as a series of gut punches.

As today dawned, I remembered. Some things you do not forget. Some hurts stay etched on your soul.

I reached out to those I know who are hurting more and remembering today too. That helped a little.

In my journal, I noted that my feelings surprise me. In seven years,  it seems I would be more healed from that loss. But, today I can feel an actual physical pain in the same broken place in my heart where this grief lives. It feels gently healed but ever-so-tender, like new pink skin is growing there, very thin and delicate. It feels like I should shield it.

I don’t know what to do on a gray and achy day like this except to honor my feelings. To name them. To bathe them in prayer and in God’s Light. To say, “Yes, that happened and it really hurt, really mattered and really changed me.” A mentor once told me that our tears baptize our feelings. Today, my tears are at work in the Holy act of baptizing this loss once again.

God is a God of healing and so much healing has happened in these seven years. I celebrate that. I see it. I live it every day.

The entry in Jesus Calling today, February 19, says, You need to remember who I am in all my Power and Glory.  What a Word this is. Even before this loss, God’s Glory has of course been on display. In the midst of it and in the years since, God has continued to shine.

Creation shows us this all the time: Pure darkness, then the first light of dawn. Heavy, angry storm clouds then a rainbow. Moonlight, starlight on a previously black night. God saying, Yes, you’ve had darkness but remember who I am in all my Power and Glory.

Today, I remember. I remember my friend. I recall the deep loss. I revisit the tender ache of it. And, most of all, I remember who God is.

Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, a wife, a mother of three, friend and colleague of Dr. Ken Diehm, breast cancer survivor, Mimosa to Keller. 

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The Teacher

Life is clearly a series of transitions. We should be used to that by now. So many I know are in the midst of some achingly abrupt and difficult transitions. The hardest ones seem to the be the ones no one asked for.

I have friends who are grieving the loss of their loved ones. Some are grieving breaking or broken marriages. Some are agonizing over the painful transitions of their children in trying to launch into the real world or who are struggling with addiction, anxiety, learning differences or depression. People I know keep getting difficult diagnoses. I know some right now who are transitioning from this life to the next or sitting near a loved one who is.

I have two sets of friends who are literally going through everything they own in order to move to different countries for a work season. I know some who are in the midst of big job changes, some they didn’t ask for.

My family has been wrapping our hearts around my mom’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis which became official last June after revealing itself slowly a few years before that. She does not like to call it that. She believes she has normal “old people forgetfulness.” We try sometimes to gently remind her that it is more than that but I don’t suppose it matters.

My mom was an elementary school teacher. She’s still teaching me, even through her own transition. As Alzheimer’s erases her memory, she is forced to stay anchored in the present: the this day, this moment, present. Her disease has made her more attentive, more reflective even. We spend Wednesdays together. One of her favorite topics is for me to tell her about my childhood. I’m a storyteller anyway and not that many people are asking about my childhood these days, so I find it delightful. She hangs on every word. She’ll say, “I remember that!” Or, “I was a good mom, wasn’t I?”

She gets more caught up in the moment we are in. Last week, at a restaurant, she said she loved me and asked if she could kiss me. One kiss led to more all over my face. With the business lunch crowd looking on, she kissed and loved on me as if I was 9 months old. I just let every single kiss soak right in.

She stays in the present. She savors things, gratefully. She loves playing Tetris and beating me, every time. She loves a nice cold glass of Chardonnay. She loves peppermints, iced coffee, ice cream, playing Solitaire and Words with Friends on her Kindle. She will look at pictures of her loved ones all day long. She often names the things she likes, like a Holy litany.

Almost every time we are together, she tells me to look at the sky. “Can you believe how blue it is?” “Look at that tiny cloud over there!” “I’ve never seen the sky look so beautiful, have you?”

I do not romanticize her disease or what is coming for all of us. I know how hard and long and ever changing our journey will be.

But for now, in this transition-no-one-asked-for, she’s still teaching. I think her lesson points can work for anyone going through a hard season.

Stay in today. It is all we really have.

If you love someone, tell them and kiss them all over their face.

Savor little things, gratefully. Name what is good in your life over and over and give thanks.

And, for God’s sake, and yours, look up. Look up.

That Silent Saturday

In Christianity, there’s not really even a name for that Saturday. No one seems to know what to do with the day in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is such an awful, awkward, painful day.

I’ve heard it called Holy Saturday, but not much. Even the Bible doesn’t have much to say about that day. Matthew’s gospel has Pilate demanding that the tomb be sealed and guards watch it around the clock, just in case someone tries to steal the body. All the other gospels are silent on the topic.

The torture of the agony of Friday ending in death’s finality. The tears, the earthquake, the ripping of the heavens, life over as they knew it. Hopes and dreams crushed. And, then, can you imagine? Saturday happens and it is just silent. God is silent. Time, I imagine, agonizingly slow. There are no answers, no revelations, no angels. Just nothing.

What I want to say today is this, don’t gloss over that horrible Saturday while you are getting ready for Easter. Don’t use it as only a day of gathering Easter supplies and food for tomorrow. Don’t just use it to pull together your Easter fashion ensemble.

Stay in it. Pray through it. Try to feel it because the Silent Saturday is as much a part of the Christian faith as all our other milestone days. In fact, I believe most of our Christian life is lived in the silent, awkward Saturday seasons.

Like when death has been pronounced and the body taken away; or when the divorce papers are signed and submitted; when the diagnosis comes and you have no clue how it will unfold. Hospital waiting room moments or right after you hear them say that you are no longer employed. Our faith lives are full of silent Saturdays.

What we do in the silent, painful, awful moments of life is as important as what we do on Easter.  Actually, maybe how we handle Saturday matters more than how we do when the angel assures us that “He is not here. He has risen just as he said” Matthew 28:6

This awkward, awful, no name, no information Saturday has something to teach us about life and faith. Stay in it and learn.

The Grace of Holy Tears

When I was just six years old, my grandfather, my beloved Paw Paw, took his life and so my journey with grief began. I didn’t know how to grieve and as you can imagine, my family was upside down. I held it in and made sure I was well-behaved and responsible.

Meanwhile, I looked for my Paw Paw everywhere, in grocery stores, malls, in every passing car and at church. I didn’t understand the mystery of death, how a person can be here and then just not. I still don’t understand it. His death led me to ministry. I didn’t know much at age six but I knew if I could help anyone not take that path, I would.

cindy-6

Six years ago today, I began another, more grown up grief journey when I lost a friend, co-worker, treasured ministry colleague with no warning. One day we were happily engaged in ministry and planning Sunday worship services, the next he was gone, leaving an entire congregation reeling, and me, devastated and suddenly in charge of a whole church. Once again, I held in my grief and was a well-behaved, responsible pastor. It was all I knew to do.

Holding it in was not that good for me. Six months later to the day, I learned I had breast cancer at age 49. Later, I melted in even more spectacular ways. It was all grief.

Doesn’t it seem like we should all be better at dealing with loss?  Everyone dies. Our lives are inexplicably interwoven with people we love. We have all lost loved ones. Why is grief so hard?

Grief is hard because it rubs up against sad, angry, guilty, mixed up, real life feelings. Sometimes we are not so good with feelings. Grief is also messy. It really has no time-table and it pops up at the strangest of times. For a while, I was a grief counselor and I remember a woman sharing that after her husband died, she misplaced a shoe in her own home. She found herself sobbing as she searched for a simple shoe. Later she realized she, like the shoe, had lost her sole/soul mate. A lost shoe triggered her sobs. Grief is also hard because we all grieve on different timetables from one another and we are all grieving the unique relationship we had with the person. No one else lost what you lost.

Listening to all those grieving people taught me that the most important thing about loss is to just go ahead and feel it. If you keep it in, it will circle back around to hurt you. We are not meant to keep grief in.

Go ahead and express what you’ve lost. Let the messy feelings come as they will. Don’t judge yourself because it is weeks, months, years or decades later. Cry. One of my supervisors once told me he believed our tears actually baptize our feelings. Baptize: to bless or sanctify, to make holy, to infuse with grace and God’s spirit.

This morning, six years after losing my friend, I cried as I’ve done lots of times now. I cried because so much shifted on that day. I cried because I still don’t understand the mystery of death. I cried for his family and for the church that lost him. I cried for the way my life changed that day and the challenges I’ve had since then. Each tear, baptized a messy feeling. Each tear felt like it cleansed a wound. Each tear not just a tear but a bit of Holy water, embedded with grace, forgiveness and a peace that passes understanding. Thanks be to God for the healing power of Holy tears for little girls, and big ones.

 

Yes, Ashes

Today is Ash Wednesday.  In the Christian tradition it marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days leading us to Easter. In our best seasons, Christians use this time for a spiritual spring cleaning; a time of added devotions, prayer and scripture reading.  Sometimes we give things up to remind us of what Christ gave up for us.  Sometimes we take things on as a way of embodying his life and ministry in our lives.

Some Christians do something very strange on Ash Wednesday; something we rarely allow ourselves to do otherwise.  We let ourselves come face to face with death.  We admit together, for just a moment, that we know we will all die.  We allow ourselves to be literally marked with ashes to symbolize the reality that we will all become ashes some day. Isn’t that the strangest thing, especially in our world of heavy denial, perpetual youth and surface living?

Four years ago this week, I lost a friend and a colleague suddenly.  Actually, a lot of us lost him together.  He was fine one day; working, happy, joking, laughing, planning, dreaming and serving God and, in the blink of an eye, gone.  He was Senior Pastor of our large congregation, a significant leader in the larger Methodist church, a truly good guy, father, husband, friend.  The loss was huge.  The grief ripples ran wide and deep.  They still do.

The days and weeks after his death are a blur to me: the prayer vigil we had that Saturday night; our Sunday morning worship services the day after his death where we knew worship needed to somehow go on without him; his large funeral the following Friday with thousands attending; his birthday shortly after that.  And then, Ash Wednesday, just a week or so later.

I don’t recall exactly what we said during that Ash Wednesday service. I know we let the familiar Christian rituals carry us through. We marked one another with ashes. We faced death only this time, it was painfully, excruciatingly staring back at us.  Yes, you will all die, of course.  But then, this, through the ritual, through the ashes, this Word, “So live, live for Me.”

Somehow, some way, through God’s grace and mercy and resurrecting love, we have.  We will.

I miss my friend. But what I know is this, he was well acquainted with the truth of Ash Wednesday.  He knew about the ashes. He trusted God fully in life and in death. I just know what he would say to us today if he could.  “Yes, ashes. Of course you will all die, that’s the point.  So, live.”

Transitions

Yesterday in Texas the temperature was pushing 80 degrees.  It was a humid 80 too.  We turned our air conditioning back on.  Today, there is a strong north wind and it is currently in the mid-30s.  The problem with this whole weather thing is the lack of transition.  It is tough to go from shorts and flip-flops to sweatshirts and gloves with no transitional weather in between.

I feel the same kind of abruptness with Thanksgiving to Christmas.  We barely finished our Thanksgiving meal and drove home from out of town; only to discover all our neighbors out hanging Christmas lights and installing their holiday yard displays.  (I can’t even speak about the Christmas-decorations-before-Thanksgiving people). So we rolled into the driveway, hopelessly behind in the changing of the seasons.

Life seems filled with both subtle and abrupt transitions.  When our kids were little, the transitions came so fast: milk to solid food, crawling to walking, diapers to potty trained, preschool to elementary. But truthfully, they’ve never stopped transitioning.  Our daughter married with a home and career of her own; our middle son about to graduate from college this month, then home for a transitional few months before he’s out in the real world; our high school son transitioning from football season to off season sports; driving now, oh my!

I see people all around me adjusting to transitions of health, job issues, marital status, empty nests that get full again for a season…even from life to death.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said it this way, “Nothing is secure but life, the transition, the energizing spirit.”

It’s true.  Life seems to be mostly a series of transitions.  Some I handle better than others; some I face grumbling and bitter; some I welcome with open arms; some I fervently argue with, to no avail.  So today, as I adjust to 30 degree weather and the Christmas season upon me, I pray for God’s soothing spirit to ease today’s transitions.