Jesus and Broken and New Life

Today marks the first day of spring, bringing the promise of warm breezes and bursts of color, of longer days and more sunshine according to the calendar if not yet evident in my yard. I’ve always welcomed the changing seasons, arranging my concept of time along 3 month chunks, knowing whatever was going on around me whether bright like summer or dark as winter, only required my celebration or dread for a short time. Cold winter days and frigid nights were manageable for me, always the promise of Spring ahead as I crossed off days and looked for crocus to break through the snow. Fall brings the last invitations to stay outside more comfortably, bonfires keep us engaged in nature and breathing crisp air as it chills, the sun setting before we have even had dinner. I lived in California for a year, experiencing the slight changes the calendar brought, I was out of step and confused when leaves didn’t change color and the sun kept shining. I moved back home to Indiana where endless summers don’t exist and time is clearly marked for me. Now though, I want to stop the clock, stay in winter bundled under covers, wearing thick socks and heavy sweaters. I don’t want the calendar to move forward to a new season of hope and short sleeves, of children running through the yards and riding bikes. I’m not ready.

With each day, I wake to find the calendar is moving me further from the time when my son breathed and laughed and made silly faces. The moment he stopped doing any of those things brought a different invitation, a choice for me to keep marking calendar days or to stop seeing promises of new days entirely. I’ve fallen somewhere in the middle, rising each morning but dreading the move into a new season that my son will never experience. I’m dragging my feet into spring, leaving my heart in winter, choosing not to notice that I don’t need a coat as often, cursing the sounds of children playing outside games filled with running and shouts that carry through the air to my back porch. Losing a child has taught me that everything is now flipped, I don’t want anything that I used to relish. Spinning, tumbling through the days, I don’t seek out stability and security and warmth, signs of newness. I want my dark cave of winter where I can wail and moan, maintain my stuckness alone, less noticeable as others cocoon during the winter months. And what does it mean if I move into the next season, cross that line into the living without my son? It is clearly marked for me, I have to choose now more than ever to embrace the next promise or wallow in the one that was broken. Front porch wind chimes insist I hear even in my cave that the winds of a new season create beauty. I curse them too.

I heard my pastor pray over the congregation this weekend, saying words like Jesus and broken and new life that I have heard most of my life. Yet this man on this day said it and what I can only assume was the Holy Spirit who must have really wanted me to experience those words in a new way, shook me and woke me and altered me. Rather than focusing on the new life given through death, I really heard how He was broken. How He hung on that cross with a destroyed body and yet resurrection was just on the other side. Remembering that this God does know about mourning and breaking and so does His Son, I knew I wasn’t alone. I heard the story of wheat that had to be crushed and planted to bring more to life, I know about crushing and breaking and being buried under the weight of loss. I picture God in that in between time, when hope was just a breath away but the darkness was all around. He too knew that good would come but it didn’t change the sorrow of the moment. Newness couldn’t come without the breaking.

I have resisted the hint of anything good coming from my son’s death, a price too high for any joy that could come after to a mama’s heart. When news thatch of my son’s children received a Social Security check, I was filled with a deep nausea that has only mildly dissipated. While logic says this is good and ensures the children have college funds and a sure supply of food, I can’t help thinking that he was worth more dead than alive based on the checks. I want him instead of the money. I want him instead of a new day. I want him instead of anything and accepting the anything feels like I have turned my back on him, been bought off with daffodils and college tuition and trips to museums. The truth is that it was never either/or. It wasn’t a segment on the Price Is Right, trade in my child for a better future for his. Still, it feels as if accepting the calendar moving and one season siding into the next separates me further from the baby I carried, the child I nurtured, the young man I fought for, the man who left his earth too soon.

I’m with God in the dark days of mourning, He is with me, as I struggle to hold on to winter, as I celebrate that even if the calendar says spring it is cold outside and I need a coat. I’m not ready yet to move forward, each step into the future separating me from a past that holds my child. Time continues without consulting me, never asking if I am prepared for resurrection and buds on the trees. I’m not yet celebrating restoration and sun rays filling my front room. No Easter decorations adorn my front door, no bunnies or eggs grace my dining room table. I’m holding onto winter for a bit longer, even as it lets go of me. My son left us, he didn’t ask if we were ready to release him.  Still he is gone and I am left knowing just how little control I have, unable to save him or stop the warm air from coming. It must be the Holy Spirit whispering to me that it is okay to be broken, to be mourning and lost. One day I may again embrace the fresh scent of lilacs sweeping in open windows. Not today. Just as I cannot see through the fury of a snowstorm, I cannot find my path into sunshine with tear filled eyes. The seed that was planted all those years ago as I heard other prayers about Jesus and broken and new life, that was nurtured and fertilized with stories of others survival through broken times, that seed is pushing upward toward the light, willing spring to come anyway.

I hear you pastor, and Holy Spirit and wind chimes. I’m just not ready.

How Do We Get Back Up?

Listening in church this past week to a young man who is a Rwandan genocide survivor, a thriver who has overcome all the odds and inexplicable evil to become a doctoral student at Purdue, I was in awe of his ability to keep getting back up, his persistence in moving forward. The world is filled with evil acts waged against both large groups of people and specific individuals every day, how can one find meaning is all the horror? I left the sanctuary wondering how I can keep moving forward in the face of all the evil I have experienced, is there a point where it just becomes too much? I certainly haven’t watched my family murdered in front of me, lived in a refugee camp with no food, maybe my life is not so bad. Yet my soul cries out that the view looking back is gruesome in its own right, that my heart has broken along with my spirit too many times to track. How does this man keep going? What can I learn from him that will encourage me in the belief that tomorrow will be better, that hope is worth investing in, that joy will come in the morning when it more often feels like only more pain and evil await?

I quietly celebrated the end of our Wednesday night church groups, the meals I create to feed 130 people each week have drawn to a close for this session. This round started only two weeks after my son died, I was given the chance to back out of the commitment and hand it off to someone who wasn’t lost in mourning, but I stuck with it, placing myself around believers and grace givers each week intentionally, allowing their hope and faith to feed me while I sprinkled cheese on pasta and browned hamburger seasoned with onions. Having lost any sense of God’s presence, I chose to be close to those who hadn’t. A tiny step towards hope, a belief in something, anything bigger than my loss. As staff filtered through the kitchen each week while I prepared the salads and stuck chicken in the oven, I was gifted with space to be sad and angry and vacant, and also to be included in conversations about ministry visions and next steps. Sometimes the getting back up looks most like going back to church, overcoming the stronger desire to lay down amongst the rubble.

I shared with a friend that the contrast between my two circles truly confuses me, I can’t find logic or understanding in how both can be real in my world. My church community lifts me up, hears my brokenness and accepts me as I am. The other circle, one of former relationships and fringe engagements, is united in causing more pain and cruelty, in judgement and bitterness. How can I be involved in both? She told me, “Lisa, they are not your circle.” Six words that swept away the helplessness and returned my power. I can choose not to be connected to that circle, to not continue my role as punching bag and doormat. She is absolutely right, that is not my circle anymore, maybe never was. Wise words that offered me a view of a hope-filled life, a nudge that said there will be a better day, a better next five minutes, grab onto this. Truly a peace that passes understanding filled me, a serenity that makes no sense in the current climate of my days and nights and anger and pain. Freed of the bondage of evil, I chose to visit a greenhouse and look at the new life coming, see the greens that will soon be filled with colors as flowers erupt. I saw the deliberate work of gardeners who trust that the seeds they have planted and the shoots they are nurturing throughout the artificial warmth will produce a breathtaking bounty. A greenhouse at the tail end of winter is a true illustration of the choice of believers, to rest in faith and to do the hard work of nurturing that which gives nothing back for an extended period, knowing that one day the real sun will shine on the leaves and the roots will be strong. The greenhouse is my circle, my community that seeks out the good. The containers filled with rosemary and thyme, just like those I see each week at church as we brush our lives against each other,  release the scent of hope a fragrance that fills the air and reaches my soul when I touched the tiny leaves.

The children in the Wednesday night programs heard about the life cycle of butterflies on their final night. They painted pictures of butterflies and investigated containers of larvae, watching as the tiny beings began to slowly, so slowly make their way to the top as they prepared to transform into new beings, completely unrecognizable as their former selves. How do they know to climb, to spin, to wait while wings are being prepared for them, for the freedom that comes with flying? These tiny beings know there is a better tomorrow coming. Plum was given his own small container to take home, a deeper need to see hope and God’s hand in all creation recognized in this child who lost his father with no warning or real explanation. This is my circle, filled with those who see suffering and move to alleviate any piece of it, people who show love every time they look at us. We are watching in anticipation as the large make their way up the sides of the plastic container, but more, I am watching my own transformation. I am being restored, pursued by a relentless God who knows I am stuck on the edge, struggling to find the way back into the light and away from the evil that surrounds. I am climbing back up after every fall and know that I am in the right circle where wise words, sweet understanding and continued prayers beat back the darkness.

Choosing hope, believing that while this world is filled with evil it is also brimming with goodness, knowing that tomorrow may bring more pain but also more healing, trusting that God can turn all the ugliness into something good, I rise and face this day. That is how we survive, even move to thrive. We just get back up.

What Will I Remember?

I have been spending a good chunk of my day time hours with a woman who is in the later stages of Alzheimers. Her home has been sold, her husband died a few years ago, she lives with her daughter and son-in-law for these last months or even weeks while that is still possible. While my presence allows her daughter to leave for work, to have a few hours of respite, I am really the one benefitting from this time. My lack of patience and quick anger dissipate as I drive up and exit my car. I know exactly what we will be talking about, four basic conversations on a loop that occur between her frequent naps. My responses are mostly set now, I know how to prompt her to better memories as she vers toward paranoia and her confusion about current moments threatens to overtake her. But more than the fact that these interactions are not taxing on me emotionally or mentally, I am learning a great deal from her.

Much could be said about the sadness surrounding the situation yet I feel blessed to be trusted with her, to keep her safe and drive her to get a hamburger and a Coke each day. With determination I seek out her laughter, a pathway to travel back to old pets and various employments, to find her smile and watch her mostly vacant eyes light up. Remembering also that her daughter has quietly stood with our family, has supported my Arrow for many many years behind the scenes, how he benefited from grace during his vulnerable times, I am grateful for the chance to be with her mom while she is most vulnerable.  Rather than sad, I find myself energized when I get in my car and leave the house, a purpose ahead of me rather than long days of ruminating and crying. Giving back to a friend who has never needed anything I could offer, this feels like closing a circle. Even more though, I am learning the danger when one begins to question the motives of those around, to forget the kindnesses of family and friends, to lose touch with all the good you have done in a lifetime. I see how lost she is when scary thoughts cloud out the current reality. A warning to me, I grasp that I could easily forget where I am, who I am, all the joy I have experienced if I stay in the darkness.

We look at old pictures and recall better days, she doesn’t recognize herself in her wedding picture or one from when she was a teen, yet there are some middle years that she can still recall and that is where we find our most laughs, when she can add bits of detail to stories each day. I feel at ease with her, I too have lost much of my history and struggle to recall details that add joyful color to my life. These current days are fraught with pain and second-guessing that push away the memories of my children as children, before they became adults with difficult choices and missteps of their own. Watching old home videos I am reminded of hugs and silliness and laughter, so much laughter and giggles and sweet sweet smiles. Those images remind me that our lives were love filled also, that darkness didn’t always have the edge. Being with my new friend reminds me to look back a bit further, to seek out the details of our lives and not fixate on the confusion that comes when I question why or how. Even more though I am aware that each day I have the choice to add more light, to see more light. Alzheimer’s may have taken this choice away for her, one of the many tragedies of this disease, she may not be able to so readily access happier times but I still have a chance. Thus I steer our talks away from why her sister doesn’t call (she does) and toward times when she was young and followed her sister around everywhere. We are focusing on her joy moments and she finds peace again. This is my roadway back to my own peace.

When I am older, when my faculties are strained, if I am blessed with someone who will visit me, who will listen to me reminisce, I pray I am brimming with stories of delight and not regrets, that I am able to settle into times when my purpose and worth are evident, when I was following my calling and who laughter surrounded me. Darkness will always seek to overwhelm the light, I will never be whole again, the loss is just too great. Yet I have today and another chance to create a memory worth celebrating, one that I can look to when all feels heavy and scary. The sun is shining, the coffee is hot, I slept most of the night. I can find blessings if only I remember to look. God has placed me with a teacher who may never know that she saved me by her example and the easy acceptance she offers as we chat and drive and walk outside, but I know and I will remember.