Tag Archives: grief

Subtle and Simple

Redundancy alert! For those of you who have been around me a while or follow my blogs, articles, sermons and rants over the years, I’m going there again, to my favorite holiday topic. I almost didn’t bring it up this year but I felt like someone out there might just need to hear this, said in just this way, right now.

Jesus taught us many things. He said he is the “way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6 He said “Whoever wants to be first needs to be last.” Mark 10:44-45 He said to follow him and fish for people. Matthew 4:19  He said “Don’t worry.” Matthew 6:31-34 He said “Let the little children come to me.” Matthew 19:14 He told us to let our light shine. Matthew 5:16 He asked us to love our neighbors and our enemies. Matthew 5:43-44 He told us with God all things are possible. Matthew 19:26

What he never once said was “Celebrate my birthday with as much food, partying, overspending, over scheduling, over decorating and stressful hoopla as you can manage.” He did not say, “In fact, celebrate my birthday so hard and so big that you have to begin in September or October to cram it all in.”  He never said, “Exhaust yourselves, fall off ladders putting up lights, go into debt and over indulge for me.”

For years, I’ve been preaching about this and talking mostly to myself about slowing Christmas down, simplifying it, letting go of pointless traditions, habits and the too muchness of the season. I’ve taken some flack for it. I’ve been called Scrooge. And, honestly, I don’t mind.

When Jesus was born there were no decorations. The only light was the subtle light of a star. The Christmas card was only sent to the lowest ones, shepherds out in the dark fields minding their own business. The gifts, if you recall, were simple ones for the baby, not for you and me. It was subtle, low-key and simple. And, it was enough to change the world forever.

I say all that to say what I always say at this time of year. It is okay if you do less. It is actually Biblical and theological to do less. If you love doing more, do more. If it is not serving you or others, then be brave enough to stop.

Years ago, our family started simplifying Christmas. Our breaking point was that year when we had only 30 minutes to pick out a live tree, rope it to the top of the car, screech home and literally throw it in the yard before our next activity.  That was the year, I woke up and said, “What in the name of Christmas are we doing?”

Slowly, we just started subtracting. We learned it was fine. We learned Christmas still came and in fact we enjoyed it more every year.

Our Christmas, like yours, was so over the top that we’ve been able to subtract some every year and still have more to subtract.

People who are grieving, sick or suffering life challenges of some kind this year need to hear what I’m saying the most. It is OKAY to do less. If you can’t bear the thought of facing the season’s challenges, expectations and traditions, then trim them down.

Maddie in San Angelo taught me this. I was a Hospice Grief Counselor and she invited me to her home in December after her husband died. She said she wanted me to see her decorations. When I arrived there was a votive candle flickering on a small table. She said, “That’s my decoration. It’s all I can do.” We hugged and agreed that her one candle was enough.

Yesterday, I received a sweet text from my sister-in-law. It said, “My co-workers were lamenting the fact of all the gifts they had to purchase for so many factions of their family and how much money they were spending and how little time they had to do it. It reinforces my thankfulness to you for saying several years ago that we should simplify. My holiday is so much more relaxing now….”  

What is important here is that it is not easy or popular to be the one who suggests doing things differently or who says out loud “this is all too much.” Sometimes it takes a lot of angst and tries before something actually changes.

If your family won’t do it. You can. You can say no. You can leave some boxes up in the attic. You can buy less. You can be Biblical instead of commercial. You can do less instead of more. You can simplify something.

When you do turn down the brightness and glitter of the season, I pray you will notice  more of God’s subtle starlight  When you have more space and less noise, I pray you will hear the coos and tiny cries of a newborn. When you buy less, you can give him a gift that honors his real teachings and his life. Be brave enough to light one candle this season and just see what God will do with subtle and simple.

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Breaking News

This weekend was another happy college football weekend for our family, if you don’t count the outcome of the game. It was especially delicious for us because all our children were there, our son-in-law, our grandson, other relatives and lots of friends, old and new.

Football weekends are always very busy and loud with cannons, fireworks, lots of yelling, singing, music, fly overs, marching bands and such. In the midst of all that noise this weekend, my daughter confided that she definitely felt the baby move this week.

I have written and spoken about this phenomenon before. It’s called quickening. If women wrote more theology I’m sure this would be classified as an “official” theological concept because I’m not sure there is any other more God-filled idea than this..

In the noise of life, in the busyness and movement of all things, something flutters, quickens. It is new life unfolding in a dark and hidden place.

When my daughter mentioned this, I felt like we should stop everything and make a giant announcement about it including taking over all the news channels and social media. Breaking news: we’ve got a flutter here, a quickening, something new.

Right now in our world and in our news feeds there is so much muck, darkness, accusation and trouble. The same is true in our people circles, at least in mine. People you and I love are facing hard and challenging things.

That’s why quickening is breaking news. I believe God is absolutely faithful with the quickening. Whatever we are facing, if we are just still long enough, there is a flutter of new life. We don’t know the form it will take, but it is there.

For those facing disease and pain, there is a flutter of health and relief trying to win in your body. Grieving? Look for a flicker of light or laughter to come back, even for a second. Facing something hard? An addiction, a difficult relationship, a financial burden,  a job decision? Somewhere in all that God is at work, knitting something new that is going to flutter past you or make itself evident in a conversation, a dream or a prayer. It will be subtle because that’s how these things go. You might miss if it you aren’t still enough or perceptive enough.

God is absolutely faithful in the quickening. God is a masterful  Creator when it comes to  at new life. And, I think God enjoys the surprise of it too. Just when you thought all was lost, it’s not. Just when you believed you’d never feel again, you do. When all seems dead, a flutter.

Emily Dickinson perceived it when she wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

Pregnant women say quickening feels like that, hope with feathers…like a butterfly’s wings or a tiny hummingbird moving inside. God’s faithful quickening in us, in our too real, messy, sometimes sad and loud lives is actually the best breaking news of the day.

 

Beautiful Letting Go

It’s finally fall. In Texas we’ve been enduring ridiculous October days with high temperatures in the 90s. This makes us cranky, unable to breathe and creates fashion problems because you cannot wear sweaters and cute boots when you are having a heat stroke. We can’t decorate because pumpkins rot so fast in hot weather and rotting pumpkins is not the look we were going for.

Just this week the weather finally has turned for us. There are no words for how this feels. I made tortilla soup and pumpkin bread as fast as I could. I was ready with long pants, a long sleeved shirt and fuzzy socks for the first time in what seemed like decades.

Yesterday, I saw this quote for the first time, “The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let the dead things go.” I don’t know who said it, but it caught my imagination. My yoga teacher often says at the end of our practice, “let go of that which no longer serves you.” In yoga, for me, that is stress, a busy mind and the bound up feeling in my joints. I always think about what else I might need to let go of as well.

I’ve never before tied autumn to the practice of letting go. But, as the leaves release, perhaps so should we. Maybe it is time to let go of a bad habit, a toxic relationship or  the clutter in our homes. Maybe it is a season to let go of an old hairstyle, a resentment, an anger or a destructive grief. Maybe it is time to release the clothes we’ve not worn once 1977 or from 3 sizes ago. Maybe it is time to let go of a job, a burden or that worry that you will never fix. Maybe it is time to release our resistance to help and call the therapist, the doctor or call on God.

More than once, I’ve had to call on God’s spirit to let go of something that was no longer serving me. The prayer was simple, “God, I need you because I cannot let go of this alone.”

Imagine, in this new season as we marvel at the golden, orange and red leaves of fall, breathe in the crisp cool air, make and eat pumpkin everything, that we are also taking our cue from nature and allow a beautiful letting go.

 

 

 

The Fine Art of Embracing

Our nest is now empty. I know in an earlier blog I wrote about not calling it empty. I wrote bravely about calling it a wider nest that stretches practically all over Texas. But, right now, I’d like to retract that thought because the reality is, it is empty here.

We have three empty bedrooms…all still and quiet. Our laundry has decreased by 97% and I’m not even enjoying that. Our clocks tick more loudly…it’s weird.  At the grocery store, I nearly melted because I wasn’t buying the same things without a 19-year-old son eating here.

No one is waking me up in the middle of the night to tell me he’s home. His bed stays made. His room is sunny because I opened his black out curtains. It used to bug me that he left the shower curtain open all the time. It’s shut now 24/7, I should be gleeful.

He’s currently going through a rigorous ten-day tough boot camp environment preparing to be a part of the Corps of Cadets and Aggie Band at Texas A&M. My dad, his dad, his brother-in-law, brother and cousin all did the same thing before him. We all believe the Corps makes great leaders and we all know how hard it is.

We talked to our son a few days ago and he said it was harder than he thought it would be but that a text from his big brother had  helped him. I asked what the text said and he said essentially, “…to embrace the misery.” (Ok, it really said “Embrace the Suck” but I felt the need to make it sound better for my faith-based blog). Either way you get the idea. “Embrace the suck” seems somehow more aptly put and can really stick with you as a slogan.  As I was writing this, I realized there’s even a book with that title and hoodies you can get. Who knew?

Later, our older son explained his big brother text to me, “In short, it means you can’t think about all the things you could be doing; that will make you miserable. You are in a time where you’re going to be tired, stressed and getting yelled at. Embrace it and believe it’s going to make you better.  Be where your feet are.”

Sometimes I find it difficult to embrace where I am. That has been true in times of illness and recovery. It has certainly been true in seasons of grief. Sometimes I rail against a season of busyness or times where it seems my husband and I are working too hard or giving too much to everyone besides ourselves.

Sometimes it is when we need to make a decision but no clarity comes. I hate times of indecision, not knowing or waiting, don’t you?

Sometimes it is true in a season of emptiness, when the clocks are ticking too loudly and there is no laundry to do.

Could it be that there really is an art to embracing the place where our feet are right now? I wonder where you are and what needs your embrace?

 

 

 

The Nest

When I was 7 months pregnant with our first child, I led a seminar in the church I was serving on “How to Cope When Your Kids Go to College.” I have a background in Pastoral Counseling so I guess I believed I was using that knowledge to teach. Now, I just think it is hilarious and I’m surprised they didn’t throw things at me for not knowing what I was talking about.

I remember talking about grief, change and how having a child move out alters your family system. I talked about finances and the demand college expenses places on families. At the very end, a man in the back and raised his hand and asked, “Is it possible this could also be very fun?” The teacher (me) and the rest of the class seemed frozen in time for a minute. We looked at each other and quietly decided that fun just might be possible.

Fast forward almost three decades and I feel more qualified to speak on the issue. We have successfully sent two children to college and in about a week we will drop off our third child there  We are about to experience an empty nest.

We have literally been parenting now for 29 years straight. We have had kids in our home that entire time. How incredibly weird it feels to look up, look at each other and say, “Wow, that was distracting.” And, “You look different.”  “What year is it now?”

This time, with this kid moving out it feels different to me. First, for whatever reason, he’s more pleasant at this stage of his life than the other two were. He’s talkative and interesting.  He will cook, mow and run errands happily with no expectation of money or reward. He’s musical and fills our home with piano and guitar music and songs of all types. He’s funny. Secondly, I’ve been able to spend his senior year not working so we’ve bonded. I’m going to miss him. I told him I got a job at his college in the dining hall just so I can see him at meal times. He did not think this was funny nor a good idea.  I loved the idea except for the hair net issue. Thirdly, this time the next will really be empty. No extra kids left to parent after this one.

Yesterday, at church, a lot of moms with kids this age were crying. We needed a support group or something. Some of the kids were too.

It is really hard after pouring yourself into someone and spending 19 years loving, protecting, worrying and hovering, to send them off. It just is.

How I plan to cope:

-I’m going to let myself grieve and acknowledge that I miss him.

-I’m going to stay appropriately in touch. Some soon-to-be college parents were talking about devising a communication code with their kids where the students will text SA if they are still alive. I’m going to ask for more than that, for my sake.

-I’m going to continue with all my healthy habits: exercise, journaling, drinking lots of water every day, yoga.

-I’m going to have fun with the guy I married.

-I’m going to focus on the projects in my life that give me meaning, purpose and joy. There’s so much need in our world, so many ways I can love.

-Oh, and I’ve decide it is not an empty nest, at all. It is just a bigger nest. My nest stretches from Grapevine, to Frisco, to Houston and now out to College Station. And actually my nest has more eggs in it than ever with a son-in-law and now, a grandson too.

-If all that fails, I’m getting a hair net and you’ll see me at Duncan Dining Hall at Texas A&M happily distributing scrambled eggs. It’s always good to have a back-up plan.

 

 

 

When Broken Things Heal

Last year, on this very day, I was at our daughter’s home, awaiting the birth of our grandson, when I paused to take a picture of a beautiful sunset. I took one tiny step off their back porch and fell in an ever so slight hole with one foot and broke my ankle on the other foot.

It was about the worst possible time for such a thing to happen. I was there to assist. I was there to be on two feet doing things. I was going to be a whirlwind of helpfulness taking care of people I love.

When I called my daughter from the ER sobbing that it was indeed broken, she said, “Mom, this will be funny some day.” It is still, to me, one of the least funny things that ever happened. When my family tries to bring up my week-long stint with a walker before I received my walking boot, I make them stop because I can’t take remembering that horror.

The doctor told me it would take A YEAR to feel normal again. It still doesn’t. As I write, after walking 3 miles this morning, it is aching. I find it fascinating that it is still bruised in two places. How can it be still bruised?

But every day, I am grateful that broken things can heal.

Breaking my ankle taught me things that I seem to keep having to re-learn:

  1. I am breakable, vulnerable and human. To this day, my husband shows me curbs and holes. I keep saying “Just because I fell doesn’t mean I will fall again.” But, it actually does. I, like you, am capable of falling. I am breakable.
  2. Healing comes on a slow timetable. I have to keep being reminded by pain and aches that I am not yet healed. Healing is slow. One must be patient…more patient than you ever dreamed you’d have to be.
  3. Broken things don’t heal just as they were. My ankle is forever changed. So are people who lose loved ones, receive a diagnosis, endure a broken relationship or a devastating job loss. The good news is, you can heal. The harder news is that your brokenness will still be there even after you heal.
  4. God specializes in brokenness. So many times we believe our God is all about only a pristine perfection….turns out, not so much. Rather, God is perfect at healing real life brokenness. It’s not a clean and sterile kind of healing either. It is a messy, achy, wiser, kind of mending that God does.

Colossians 1:20-21b, The Message: …all of the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe-people and things, animals and atoms-get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies….You yourselves are a case study of what God does.

Imagine this truth: what is broken in you, on you and around you, can be a real life case study in how God can heal.

I have an achy, bruised, forever-changed, mostly healed right ankle and soul. I am so grateful.

  

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.