Why I Forgave the Dog Who Bit Me

I tell everyone it was my fault but really the dog had a choice. Sure, I shouldn’t have feed the visiting dog at the same time as my own beasts, I should have realized this other dog didn’t see me as a pack member. I forgot that often one can be perceived as a threat even when intentions are honorable. The dog (not one of our beasts) bit me, leaving me with 6 stitches and a thumb that aches a month later. Still, the fight was a choice and the aggression was unnecessary.

I immediately recognized my mistake, I took the dog’s side, looking out from her perspective even as blood soaked the towel and dropped onto the floor. I understand fear and protectiveness and poor impulse control. I too have bitten when I should have backed off. I know I have caused rips and tears and bloodied up those who merely want to come near. Forgiving the dog was easy, forgetting is harder. I’m leery, a bit anxious when I am around her. When you discover the harm one is capable off, do you ever truly let down your guard? So it is with relationships I long for, can I ever ask them to forget harsh words when the ache surely reminds them I have teeth and may let instincts rule sense when I feel threatened?

I keep visiting the dog, I pursue relationship. Respect and awareness are heightened as we move forward. I choose not to let fear and distrust destroy either of us. To those who have felt bitten by my responses to perceived danger, I ask, “Can you see for even a moment how situations looked through my eyes?” It isn’t in my nature to toss our harsh words, to hurl judgements and leave scars, yet I did just that. During the first few days of learning my son died, I drew boundaries around my pack, I snapped and growled and said things I so wish I could take back.  My objectivity was non-existent, my assessments faulty, just as the dog who bit me. She sensed danger from those around and a fight ensued. How can I not forgive this canine and accept my role in it, I have been her?

The truth is that this dog is kind and loving and gentle. I approach her slowly, I allow her to sniff around, I am working on regaining her trust. I pet her with my other hand, the wound barely healed, often throbbing and reminding me that relationships are hard and rife with wrong moves and restarts. Determining that ignoring her or excluding her or avoiding all potential interactions is not workable for a member of the family, I move slowly and gently reach out to her.  She in turn cuddles and offers comfort. We offer grace, we are careful with each other and we allow each positive moment to blur our difficult past.

I pray that one day I will be offered the chance to show that I don’t normally bite, that I usually offer love and comfort to those around.

The Long Saturday

Many years ago, our family watched a movie together that struck the children deeply, The Passion of Christ. None of us have been able to attend a second showing, the images of Jesus nailed to the cross, suffering and mourning so clear, we got the message and haven’t been able to shake it, even during difficult times. I remember Arrow being especially moved and vocal, he was angry at how Jesus was treated, he couldn’t grasp the cruelty. During later years as he moved away from believing, when he resisted going to church and he began to play with other religions during his incarceration, I trusted that the child who once read every book in the Left Behind for Kids series and who ached over this movie still had the seeds of faith within him. No one was witness to his last moments, we cannot say for sure that he called out to God or begged for forgiveness or even rejected it all as he took his last breath. I can only continue to believe that the Holy Spirit was with my son, given to us by God’s Son during his last breaths.

I attended the Good Friday service this week at our church, or part of it. I made it through the beginning songs but when members stood on the altar and portrayed those who witnessed Jesus’s death with an authenticity I could feel and get lost in, I found I couldn’t witness this murder. One young man gave insight into the soldiers who carried out the job of crucifixion, a horrible job that becomes doable when only with detachment, the separation of one’s heart and one’s body. I have been that guy, witnessing horror, participating in the destruction of others by mocking and questioning and above all, not stepping in to say no. Plum asked me the other day if there was ever any kids I didn’t like when I went to school. As I struggled to answer his question, memories of one particular little girl came to mind. She was different, annoying, she was too skinny and wore odd clothes. She had no friends so the day she decided to sit with me at lunch, to join my group, what to me was an implication that I accepted her and maybe could be like her, my fragile identity and need for acceptance from the larger group resulted in a shameful bullying incident that has haunted me for 45 years. When she refused to move even after we told her to, I dumped my tray of spaghetti on her. I cringe as I write this, unable to fathom the cruelty I lived out. When I was disciplined, it was not with suspension or spanking, instead a favorite teacher took me into his room and said the worst thing possible, that he was disappointed in me. That moment solidified for me that I had a choice about how I was going to grow into my character. I could follow the group, I could seek acceptance by behaving horrifically, or I could see the humanity in all around me and choose kindness. I evaluated the popular group I so wanted to be in with and found that I really didn’t have anything in common with them, I really was more like the girl on the fringe. I cannot say that she and I became great friends but I never again rejected her, I did eat lunch with her and I found she had gifts I had previously overlook and discounted. As that respected teacher spoke to me, I lost the ability to detach my heart and crucify others. I didn’t share the whole story with Plum who is kind to the odd kids and would be shocked that his grandma once behaved so poorly. One day though, he will hear this truth and will know that kindness is always our best choice.

Our pastor gave a moving portrayal of the man who hung on the cross next to Jesus, his gasping breaths and last minute acceptance of the offer of salvation, so real and true and horrific, I wanted to bolt from the room. I have been that guy, living a life of deception, suffering the consequences of mistakes that have taken away any dignity or hope, only to turn my soul over to the only One who continued to hang with me, the One who has offered me forgiveness again and again. When I was first imprisoned, when I sat in the jail cell in shock trying to absorb my reality of two and a half years away from my children, I too was gasping for air, only to find it stale, piped in, rife with desolation as others struggled to breathe as well. I begged God to let me die, I sought some means to end it all, the agony of it all wracked my body. Yet in the darkest moments, when I couldn’t escape my horror, I was flooded with the presence of the Holy Spirit, the reminder of the Footprints poem would not leave me, I found a peace I didn’t want, didn’t believe I deserved, as I knew Jesus would carry me when I couldn’t walk. I survived, I healed, I returned a stronger, surer woman who was determined never to be used by a man again, who would seek out God for my redemption always. Unlike the man on the cross, my conversion moment has been stretched over decades, a constant need to turn my eyes away from the harsh realities of this world and focus on God.

Next came the sounds of Jesus’s mother, wailing as she watched her son die. During the last three months as I have sought out God to make sense of my son’s death, I forgot about another mother who lost her son. Alternating between finding comfort knowing God fully knew my pain and being angry that He didn’t stop the loss, I never imagined how Mary must have felt. Yet her son offered comfort even to her in that moment, He instructed another to be her child. He assigned her another son, he solidified that even if she was childless through His death, she would continue to be a mom. He knew they would need each other as they grieved, as mourning threatened to destroy all hope. My wounds are too raw, too fresh, my other child is not joining with me to mourn. Mary’s sorrow was too real to me, I had to leave. As she proclaimed that she didn’t want Him to be Jesus, savior of the world, but just her son, I knew in that moment her mother’s heart just wanted her son back, not this man who made His own choices and suffered the consequences. She couldn’t rescue the baby she had carried, bereft, she cried out at the injustice, at the death of her joy. I have truly been Mary, my son  imperfect but loved by so many,  he too left way too young, he had much left to do on this earth.

Listening from outside the sanctuary, I heard bits and pieces of the witness of others. I considered that Jesus was someone different to each, multiple levels of mourning and relationship were evident during His execution. Friends and followers watched, confused and searching for answers. Left wondering how it all could go so wrong so swiftly, dreams of a better future shattered, swept away as the crowd celebrated. Considering how my son died as suddenly, warning signs clear just as Jesus foresaw His own death, yet ignored, discounted. Still those around my son mourn in shock. His friends, his family, co workers, teachers, all  replaying what happened, searching for answers, desperate to find a different truth than the reality that this was inevitable, that the choices Arrow made led him to his own destruction. Our sins led to the death of Jesus, we are complicit, our very nature made it necessary for the sacrificial lamb to die. Is the same true for my son? What did we miss, what wrongs were committed that encouraged his substance abuse? What more could we have done over the 11 years of his addiction to help him chose life over this disease? Yes, the witnesses to his death are left wondering, wishing for an answer to explain this loss, knowing none will ever bring him back. Hopes for a better future died that morning as they both took their last breaths. The long waiting through Saturday, after that horrific Friday, filled with confusion and seeking ends with the joyous discovery of the empty tomb on Sunday, for the followers of Jesus. My Saturday blanketed Sunday and Monday and all the days after. I’m struggling to get to Sunday, the day of restoration and affirmation.

My son’s birthday falls close to Easter each year. I know there is a story in that, preparation during 26 years to remember the promises of God at the end of the story, to not get stuck in the desolate Saturday of a hard life. As I look back on each year with him, as we baked cakes and blew out candles and sent cards to prison and rejoiced that he was among us for another chance of a bright future, I was being trained, conditioned. Don’t look merely at the emptiness of my heart, rejoice in the transformation of a life. Watch as my sins as a bully in elementary school and his drug use are opportunities to turn toward the light, see grace scatter shame like bits of colored egg shells swept into the trash. The good stuff is inside of us, the flashy colors and decorations an enticement to us to go deeper, find the prize within, to gain nourishment for our souls. Still I am stuck on Saturday, a seemingly endless wait to discover joy again and accept all the grace that Easter brings. I replay the voices from the sanctuary, listening to the witness of believers and doubters alike and know that Sunday will come, one day I too will delight in the empty tomb. Spring is late this year, vacillating between sunny 70 degree days and late snow showers and I find comfort in that. I’m easing into this slow spring season, beginning to notice the birds excitedly chirping, allowing the rain to fall onto my head and sprouting shoots of early flowers to remind that Sunday is around the corner. Embracing the humanity of those who witnessed the execution of my Savior, of those who missed signs to save my son, I realize there is hope enough for me.

 

 

On The Bridge

Growing up, I didn’t hear much about evil in church.  The focus was more on gaining a relationship with Jesus, accepting God as the foundation for our lives. Yet more and more I realize that light cannot be appreciated without darkness. I’ve read tons of quotes about the stars shining brightest in the dark of night, I get the concept. What I didn’t realize though was the role of evil, how much the hard times in my life have been the devil attacking me when I am the reaching out to God, when my faith was getting stronger. I have to admit it feels weird to even type that, such is my discomfort with “devil talk”.  What has seemed like a foreign way for me to understand and practice my faith, an attitude more fitting for those other kinds of churches is now becoming a clear concept of how this world works. It certainly has aided me in recognizing the role of shame and insecurity and even depression, removing my sense that I have brought this stuff on myself, furthering the need for self-punishment. I’m not suggesting I don’t have personal responsibility for my actions but understanding the goal of magnifying and distorting and oppressing me is strictly that of the evil one, I begin to find the power of choice, of turning to the Light.

When it became clear that the abuse I experienced as a child was deeply impacting my relationships and I needed help to right my thinking again, I entered therapy. This time though, I didn’t search for a counselor who had years of experience dealing with sexual abuse, although she does. I sought out a faith-based therapist who could help me resolve the questions of how could God have allowed this to happen. Spoiler alert: she doesn’t have that answer but what she did offer was a bridge to God that encouraged me to cross over into trust, where I could see not a God who shares responsibility for my suffering but a God who ached with me and wants more of my life. She has also exposed the role of the evil one, something I had always discounted, pooh-poohed as more hocus pocus than spirituality. Opening my mind to the dangers of darkness, the way my heart and soul have been pursued not just by a relentless God but also a sneaky destructive evil, I have become empowered to make different choices. I can not only desire the light, I can choose it.

When bad things happen, we instinctively wonder where God is, how can these horrible events occur, much like the admonishing Jesus endured on the cross: if you are who you said you were, why can’t you stop this, prevent this, make it all better. What I am finally grasping all these years later is that the two are not mutually exclusive. God is indeed who He says he is and bad things happen as evil seeks to rule this world. It comes down to choice, when we have the option to magnify hurtful words and promote violence through bullying we have turned away from the light that seeks to shine through it all. We give power to the oppressor, we abandon the One who aches to accompany us even when all is horrible, maybe especially when our hearts are broken and we are frightened and when we begin to feel blanketed by sadness.

I was almost to the surrender part, the place where I could see with clarity that God had not left me alone in the room with my father, that God had not left me to sit in prison with a shattered soul, that He had been right with me and gave me tools to survive, then unexpectedly my son died. Rocked, shocked, shattered, I almost gave in to the darkness, allowed the loss of my son to turn me away from God. Seriously, could there be a better time to question the faithfulness of a God who didn’t save my son? Yet over and over, in spite of what felt like the ultimate betrayal of God’s love, I found countless ways that He was shining through. His disciples have walked with me, guided me back to the bridge, bringing dinner and sending cards and asking me again and agin how I am, listening to me cry and giving me opportunities to serve in the midst of it all. God spoke to a friend who was herself feeling darkness of fear and hopeless descend and she offered me the opportunity to sit daily with her mother, a beautiful woman who is losing herself to Alzheimers. In the midst of my sorrow, I was given hours each day to step outside of my pain and stay just in the present moment as I guided her through daily living tasks and listened as her snippets of past memories replayed on a continuous loop. Each time she told me about her time as a bus driver, we spoke as if I was hearing it for the first time and I felt delight. Each time. Because I was with a woman who was living out her joys over and over, not one who sat in bitterness and shame and sorrow. She was not reliving the hardest times, those she had already released from her memory. I saw the power of looking always towards the Light.

Turning my perspective away from a personal character flaws and into realization that evil is afoot, hardening hearts and sowing discord, I am free to see the real person, the true struggle and feel compelled to share more of my light, more of my hope and certainly more of my prayers. For too many years, I internalized the darkness, accepting the blame for circumstances, doubting my own worth. Bad things happened, I must be bad. God must not extend His promises to the likes of me, why else would all this keep occurring? These days, I am leaning into the complexities of words like because, in spite of, even though. When taken into context of relationships, causation and blame and responsibility are highlighted. Heartbreaks don’t find us BECAUSE of God, He remains present IN SPITE OF our circumstances and the evil we face, He will bring good and joy EVEN THOUGH we may not see it or even want it. It all changes how I see our Father.

More clearly I perceive how evil breaks up marriages, how children are led into estrangement, how we accept others as lesser because of color or bank accounts or political beliefs. Giving into the darkness of judgement and division, of depression and resentment, satan wins and we all lose. Conversely, where the Light shines, we live out   grace and forgiveness and compassion and a deep desire to right wrongs. The Light is always there, waiting to warm us and show us joy and purpose. A bridge has been built and I am stepping onto it, trusting that I will be held securely even when I stumble, even when I fall.

Will you join me on the bridge? The view is amazing.

 

 

Carrying My Elephant

When I explained to my friend that I felt disconnected to my Plum, that I knew I wasn’t being emotionally available to him, that I feared for our relationship but felt helpless to muster the energy to play our pretend games or create my own Lego robot to battle his, she offered many gentle suggestions but one stood out. I needed to tell him the truth. Hardly shocking or earth-shattering yet I hadn’t even in my foggy state, considered the power of offering him my truth.  Her ability to discern and deliver hard truths and beautiful insight with a softened tone and gentle words has aided me in correcting my paths too many times to count now. I trust her, I believe she has my best interests and even more, my soul, in mind as she listens to me. What if I offered my Plum the same gift of truth?

Her ideas about how to stay present with Plum, to create some space for even a few moments of engagement that would carry him as I sunk back into the fog of memories and heartache, they changed our weekend and brought me closer to this sweet child. Putting the plans in motion alleviated the guilt I was trying to add onto over-burdened shoulders. We built some Lego guys, we chitter-chatted. By Sunday though, I was exhausted and weepy and just needed some alone time. “Gran can we play our pretend game?” When life was our normal, he and I took on the role of characters, or more accurately, I did. He always stays Plum but I am a cast of friends who have different voices and attitudes and agendas. Our group tackles the concerns in his mind, we work out proper sharing and competitions and word choices and even a new crush. This play forces me into giving him my full attention and he loves it, craves this secret activity of ours (if Chef approaches, SILENCE!) By Sunday morning, I was completely unable to take on any more roles, I barely had my own voice. “C’mon here Plum, let’s talk.” Instead of playing any other parts, I gave him my truth.

“Gran’s sad is so big, so heavy, it is as if I am carrying an elephant.” Spreading my arms out wide, I showed him how heavy they were, how cumbersome this elephant actually is.  “Gran is so tired because this elephant is huge and heavy and it is wearing out my arms, making my shoulders ache, my body is exhausted.” I asked him if he noticed that I wasn’t very attentive right now, he said I was grumpy. Yes! I owned his label and told him this elephant is making it hard for me to see anything else, my view is blocked. I get distracted with the heaviness of it, I forget to be nicer and I can’t pick up anything more. Apologizing for not being more with him, expressing that I so missed our special times together, I told him I wouldn’t be carrying this elephant forever. “But Gran, I thought you love elephants?” Clarity and history broke down my metaphor, I struggled to explain that indeed, I do and yet this one was coming between us. Still, he said he understood and he offered grace to his Gran, tempered his invitations to play and met me in the light of our truth. Even as I pondered my promise to him, that this elephant carrying wasn’t forever, I realized I had no idea how to set it down. Slowly, carefully, with great care so neither of us were permanently damaged, I imagined.

“Your joy is your sorrow” writes Kahil Gibran in “The Prophet,” a work that has greatly steered my thinking for over 30 years. The words of this poem have been echoing around my thoughts as I consider the question posed by my Plum. Yes, one of my greatest joys ever was when Stella and I interacted up close with elephants in a sanctuary in Thailand.  The opportunity to side atop one as she played in the river, to be dunked under by the mahout, her tender, and gasp in delight as a baby elephant swam under us and popped up spraying water all around us, this joy is deeply connected to my daughter and my time of discovering her fully as a young woman. Why didn’t I tell Plum my sad was as big as a whale? A huge building? When the words left my mouth to this sweet boy, I said elephant and it was truth. My most joyful moments are the self same deepest sorrow, forever joined in my love for these two children. Remembering how carefully we made meals for the elephants within this sanctuary, how we marveled at their size and gentleness, I am reminded that my grief deserves the same consuming tenderness.

One day I will merely visit with this elephant, I won’t be carrying it. That day seems quite out of reach in these early dark moments. For now, I got honest with my Plum and we are both better for it. While I am weighed down with grief, we have offered each other space to feel how we are, be where we are, we are finding language to share difficult emotions. Mostly though I was to free up a hand to reach out to this child.  Joy will come again, I am confident this child will we teach me the way back. Reconnected, I release the guilt and hold my sadness tenderly.

 

 

Could I Survive A Zombie Attack?

I have a friend who teases me sometimes about riding out a zombie apocalypse, she questions my ability to survive. As an extremely non-violent person, I have little chance apparently, fortunately she has offered to protect me. What I have come to understand though is that I am already a survivor, I have the skill set needed to withstand all that comes at me, I have been practicing nearly my entire life. Every day up to this one has prepared me for the worst that could happen, the loss of my child and the darkness that would ensue. I found my safe space not in a bunker filled with bottled water and canned goods but in a family of faith, open and light-filled, the fresh breath of the Holy Spirit breezing through the open windows of my soul. those who freely offer grace and forgiveness, who have listened to my fears, my shame, my heartaches and still usher me into their sanctuary, these light-bringers invited me into the Kingdom and asked me to call it home.

An advantage of making as many public mistakes as I have is that you cannot run from the truth, it is all out there. The choice is to live in shame and the judgement of others or rise up.  Accountability and atonement are my guiding principals, seeking the next right thing and making hard choices that are not in my best interests or even what my heart yearns for, these skills have served me well and are leading me back into the fold. Beyond what I would desire, I will survive this grief and the pain because I have been preparing for this my whole life. I am a survivor. In fact for many years I merely survived, I existed. I eased through each day making as few waves as possible, standing in the shadows, silent and grateful for the crumbs of joy that entered my soul, I was a zombie. Then God said, “Enough.” I was washed of shame and offered transformation and a full life in the Light. I accepted, not realizing that very act would prepare me for the greatest loss of my life. That building of trust with others who share my faith and guide me to restoration are all I need to withstand attacks from evil worse than any zombie.

This spat that I have been having with God changed over the course of a weekend, when I lost a filling in a tooth and then caught the stomach bug that has been circling around our community and then found a comment on this blog that was absolutely cruel.  Physical agony that compounded my soul ache, utter helpless that sent me to my knees pushed me where I was meant to go with my broken heart. I had time to think, no puzzles and crocheting and feverish house cleaning to keep me distracted. Finally it occurred to me that I couldn’t blame God for not saving Arrow, He had done so too many times before, Arrow had been protected and rescued countless times, I know of those exact moments that God interceded on this child’s behalf. Arrow chose not to cherish that intervention, to see what more he was and stay in the Light. As clarity came about fault and blame and accountability, I found God hovering patiently, waiting for my confession for doubting HIs love. I needed more though, to allow God to be off the hook. It came in the form of insight from my daughter, from Stella, shared cruelly from one who wished to cause harm. Yes, you read that correctly.

As I read the words of my daughter, the first insight into this estrangement, the first communication that gave insight into her thinking, I became free. That which was meant for harm God turned into good.  Of course the missive was ugly yet it brought total clarity as I realized just like my son, my daughter is choosing to use and others are supporting her destructive habit. Rather than substances, she is consumed with hate and distortions and twisting of truth in order to maintain this estrangement. I recognized for the first time, IT IS NOT ME! Just as I couldn’t stop Arrow from sliding back into the darkness but provided him with every resource to choose a different life, so I am not responsible for my daughter’s  graceless existence even as I recall that she was raised in the faith where forgiveness, atonement and grace are practiced. Genesis 50:20 comes to mind: 19But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? 20“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. Yes, I am going to survive this and continue seeking what direction God is leading me, I certainly cannot do that and maintain my fight with him.

As the chains broke loose, as I realized evil was trying to push me away from God, I chose instead to live, to more than survive, to reenter a lasting full relationship with the One who had been mourning the loss of me, who was hurt by our separation. As a friend prayed with me, I heard her speak of God mourning and the last brick in my wall crumbled. I had hurt God by turning my back and He was mourning my loss. How could I as a mother awash in grief inflict that on anyone, especially the One who had interceded before, who was with my child in the final moments, who lost His own son and who cried at the wasted life of mine son? Who would ever choose to add to another’s pain, who would intentionally bring dissension and hurtful words to one already aching? I cannot be that person, I cannot treat God this way. I am called to seek reconciliation. Thus I confessed to God my sin and my sorrow. And I began to rise. In accepting that God was mourning me, I couldn’t deny that I was WORTH mourning, that my life holds value and meaning. Mind blowing stuff that destroys the evil that has attempted to overtake me. The ugly words, at the attacks on my right to grieve the loss of my son, the horror of how my son’s death was handled, all banished as the dirty work of the evil one. The Truth and the Light prevailed.

The distractions of evil that have swirled around the loss of my son are gone, I am left with the freedom to mourn, to grieve, to celebrate Arrow’s life and to ache over the death of my child. I have survived the plague of iniquity, the zombies are banished. No special weapons, no stockpiles of blankets and flashlights, I did it with my first-aid kit, one filled with the Holy Spirit and the Truth.  Love and grace from the children of God who battled alongside me showed me the relentlessness of God as they tended my wounds and shared their oxygen. Indeed, I am a survivor and I am even more. I don’t really know what zombies could bring but my heart isn’t troubled by that worry.  God and I are on speaking terms again, together we are in mourning and we are healing, one breath at a time.

Reflecting Our Truth

Having determinedly pushed God away, refusing His comfort during this time of grieving, casting blame at this Savior who forsake my son during his most desperate time, I recognize that I am choosing this trial separation. What is making it extraordinarily difficult to maintain are all of the people who radiate grace and just keep showing up. The word “blessing” has snuck back into my vocabulary, it slips out while I am talking before I realize it. Even as I search for a different word, a petulant child trying to dig into my position, I see that I absolutely cannot deny what is happening. More and more I find myself inching closer to the One who knows my shattered heart, who seems to want to hold me as I sob, all because I cannot keep Him away while accepting the care of his obedient children. I know what moves their hearts to such gentleness with ours, what compels them to exhibit kindness and to create safe places for our grief. The hands and feet of God, these people and I whisper that we are blessed even in the depth of our loss.

The most precious gift I have received during this last month is not the meals, so many meals that have nourished us and prompted us to take in sustenance. I can’t keep track of all the food that has shown up at our home and at church while I am there quietly stepping back into ministries. These full dinners and small containers of soup for lunch tell me more than just that we are loved. There is a deeper message in them, though, one that is filling me with each bite: we are worthy, those who know and love us want us to continue living. We are valued. As critical as these gifts are, they are not what has touched me most.

The cards and texts and messages are easing words of comfort beyond the walls of pain I was erecting. While I first rejected the snippets of scripture and the encouragements to draw near to God, I felt the tug with each envelope I opened. But more than the physical cards, I have accepted the thoughts behind them: that we are being held up by those around us and our grief is real, is palpable and that our loss is recognized. Slowly I will read and reread each piece of mail we have received but the essential message is the same as from those who brought us and continue to bring us meals.  Our loss and pain and worth are validated.

One day I will tell you about a framed picture that we received, a gift so thoughtful and touching I am still struggling for the words to describe what it means to us. I will tell you about those who came from others states for the purpose of hugging us while we cried. The stories of kindnesses we have been blessed with (see how that word is entering my vocabulary again?) are too numerous to list here but they all add up to the same message. Even as we continue to hear that folks don’t know what to say, their actions are shouting that we are sheltered by their faith, that we are cushioned by their desire to continue relationship with us even as we have little to give back. Yet there is more.

Losing a child, even an adult child, has pushed me to reflect even more than I normally do, on what mistakes I have made. I can list those easily, I have paid dearly for my sins and for many years I lived in shame. Breaking free of that existence with the help of dear friends, pastor’s and my therapist more recently, I recognize I am created not to be tormented with my past or even my daily life, but to be cherished as well. Thus the most vile poison that has been directed at me by those who supported my son’s use hurt, like a fun house mirror that distorts reality, I see what they are trying to create and wonder about the sheer meanness and evil that resides within them.  Yet their words do not stick, they cannot take root in my soul. That ground has been nurtured and fertilized for many years now, the seeds of faith and the redemptive love of God have readied this soul for the attacks that would come, for the evil that lives in the hearts of some, to find no resting place within me. I thought I had to live a guarded tiny life, what I have learned now is that by opening myself to the grace of God, I truly could withstand this onslaught. I have no secrets and ugly words still hurt but I do not accept them as indications of my worth.  I already know who I am. That is the gift that I continue to receive from all those who have chosen to enter our grieving space. A mirror, reflecting back who I truly am to God and to those who love me and have known me for decades and months alike.  The most precious offering of all, this telling of who I am as I stumble about in the fog, losing the ability to see clearly.

We have history, these truth tellers. We share a faith that requires us to do and be better and offers grace when we fall short. We live our days and weeks and months and years together, we show each other who we are and who God wants us to be. We take off our masks and expose tender vulnerabilities. And when horrific events transpire, we take the shattered shards of each other’s mirrors and reflect God and grace and Light without ever thinking to use those broken pieces of life to cause harm. These are my people, I am blessed to have them all around me.  I didn’t choke on that word this time, I can admit that even in the midst of this, God is with us. No greater gift can be given than leading someone back to the truth.  Yes, we are blessed by you all.

Finding the Courage to Hope

Pulling all the totes down from the attic, the three boxes holding artificial trees, I mindlessly began my task of decorating for the season. Normally music fills the air as I transform my home into a welcoming place for Santa, a reminder of the birth of our Savior, yet on this day, I lugged, I hauled, I assembled and then stopped. The totes sat, the garland left hanging out, ornaments, with hooks ready left neglected. It took me three days to finish what I usually do in a number of hours. Finally I closed the totes with much left inside and hauled them back upstairs. As if I were doing laundry or mopping the floors, my mind was not on my work, my heart was elsewhere. Then yesterday, the first Sunday of advent happened and my attention was snapped back to the point of it all.

I watched the most courageous woman I know lead her granddaughters up to the altar to light the first candle of the season, to tell the story of hope. She shared of another advent season when her heart was shattered, her hope was buried with her murdered son. Yet on this day she was standing before us, lighting the candle of faith of things to come, with the children of her children, reminding us that hope comes not of the events of this world but the life of the babe born thousands of years ago. She believes, she gets up each day and she keeps breathing. How can I wallow with such an example?

My soul has been bruised and battered and dented and banged up these last few years, the pain of estrangement and then the horror of a the election, hearing the voice of an admitted abuser played daily on the news, today he endorsed another of his kind to win the Alabama senate seat. My hope has grown so dim, lost in the shadows of twitter rants and more and more men I once respected being uncovered as harasses of women. As if the loss of my children wasn’t enough, I now find the loss of my country looming, even escapism of television or movies or NPR is no longer a refuge, I can’t find a safe place for retreat. Then comes a lesson in hope.

Hope is not in the now, not right this minute relief, not an Ambien or a bottle of wine or a really good book to forget the pain. Hope is seeing through the trauma and the chaos to what is coming, trusting that what is going will be joy and peace and love. That is a pretty big leap, one for fools, I think. Fools who believe that the Christmas decorations are more than the red suited guy, more than the maxed-out credit cards, more than the elf who visits my Plum. Hope is listening to the story of a pregnant woman and her husband traveling to a far land to be counted, to determine the taxes, to find they had no place to safely give birth to God. I remember being in labor with Stella, telling the nurse to make it stop, the pain was too much, I wanted to go home and forget the whole thing. Then it was time to push and they told me to stop, to wait for the doctor. Yet there was no stopping, she was coming, it was time. Can you stop a freight train as it is rushing towards you? So she came into the world and the doctor barely caught her. God came into our world with this timing as well, as if to show us we cannot stop His presence, we cannot determine His timing. That is where the hope begins, in that moment of His showing up in unexpected places, in all the wrong times for us, those inconvenient and pain filled moments when we are least prepared and cleaned up and wearing our best clothes to meet our Savior. No, I think God brought us hope in the that baby in a smelly stall to two people who were sweaty and hungry and exhausted, terrified and alone.

My Christmas tress are lit, the bulbs reflecting light around the room. I know now that each sparkle is meant to cast out distrust, to illuminate the promise of what is coming. I have been reminded of hope, what began thousands of years ago. As I sit with my coffee and gaze at the trees, I am thanking my friend for her story and my God for showing up in my rubble and my mess. My hopes and dreams won’t be fulfilled anytime I soon, I suspect, but we are playing the long game here. Looking both back and ahead, we can find what was breaking through the shadows all along, Jesus was born in fulfillment of the scriptures and that is enough for today.

 Sparkle