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.

 

 

I Don’t Care and I May Never Again

A friend texted me that she was sorry to say it but this is my new normal. She knows, she has lost a son as well. She knows the struggle to be a friend, the struggle to find yourself after you have lost a portion of your heart. Can we really live with just pieces? I watched a dear friend donate a kidney, watched her recovery. She gave to a stranger, not because a family member needed it. She has been preparing for this her whole life, her health choices leading to a swift and full recovery. Yet the stories of those who give out of urgency, I understand their battle to regain their daily life, to live without pain meds. I too have only sliver of my original heart, it barely beats enough to sustain me, I am existing with the knowledge I will never be whole again. I lost the portion of my heart that cares, that holds concern, that oozes compassion with each beat.

I can no longer meet someone new. It just comes down to that, the realization that I will never enter into a new relationship without fear of the opening get-to-know you questions.  Do you have any kids? That moment of choosing whether to skip all the details or answer with truth, much like the moment when someone asks “how are you today” is paralyzing. Not including the information that my son has died is the easy route but still causes me to abandon all further discussion, no relationship is built. Alternatively, if I share what is really threatening to break me beyond healing, this new acquaintance might flee for the nearest exit as well, too much heaviness too soon. How do you respond to that overshare? Maybe I would be met with compassion but that threatens to destroy the thin hold I have on public composure as well. My living room, curtains drawn, alone as the tears freely flow, no expectations of a recent shower or combed hair, I am at my most honest. I barely note that the dogs want out or the cats need fed. Dust coats everything and I don’t care.

Keeping my circle of friends just the same as it was 8 weeks ago is safer, as if my ability to relate and behave acceptably in social situations died along with my son. Maybe this truth will be fleeting, lasting only during these early days of grieving, when mourning overwhelms my senses and requires all of my energy. The truth is that even chatting, even quick interactions with a cashier or the dental hygienist frustrate and anger me. My thoughts are on a loop, the refrain “I don’t care” beginning somewhere between the “hello” and the “How are you?” Introspective by nature, now I am self-absorbed, lacking empathy and devoid of compassion. Recognizing that I am not the kind of person I would want to get to know, I wonder if I ever will be again. Protective of my meager social skills and aware of just how exhausted I am, my interactions these days are limited to those who know and expect little of me. Putting on a mask to get through the check out line, responding when someone in passing nods or waves, I can’t keep it in place for longer than 5 seconds, it slips and I am lost again in memories that bring comfort or those what haunt me.

Sitting in the dentist’s chair, standing in the entry area at church, walking through the store all bring anxiety and the fear that I will scream out, “My son died! Stop talking to me.” Can you imagine? How alarming would such a breach of etiquette be, how could any of us recover from such an outburst? So I slink away when I can, I avoid whatever social situations I can. When stuck, like in the dentist’s chair or with a real talker as I try to scan my groceries, I check out mentally and wonder when they will notice that I am no longer present.  Attempting to connect with me, many people share stories of others who have lost someone important in their lives, an honest attempt to let me know they get it and yet the very act snaps the thread between us. I cannot accept any donations of more pain, I am at capacity. Thus chit chat overwhelms me, other stories of loss anger me. No, my circle has to be small enough that my instincts to host or be accommodating don’t war with the desire to scream. Worse yet, I can’t muster the desire to care how I am perceived.

Certainly there are people who know I can only be engaged for moments, they offer the space for me to float in and out without judgement. These folks are my inner circle, the friends who share grace with one who is full of judgement and anger. They know I have little to nothing to give and am selfishly taking, taking, taking. They join me for lunch and know it might be silent. They help me with meal preparation church and realize I am far away even as we stand side by side. They ask me how I am doing and really want to hear the answer.  Hours later as it occurs to me that I didn’t ask about them, that I showed no concern for their well-being, I wonder if they still see ME through the haze of my grief, if they believe I will one day be concerned about more than my broken crumbling heart. I can’t find me anymore, though I am not looking very hard.

To be the most honest, my Chef gets the worst of me, maybe that has always been true but my bad was not this horrible. My anger explodes is rapid bursts, I forget to ask about his day or check out quickly as he answers. He doesn’t have the luxury of sitting at home like me, he puts on the mask daily and enters the public arena where he laughs at jokes and shares basketball scores, he interacts as expected, I just can’t fathom how he puts on such a show. When he returns home, he is met with silence, an oppressive air of sadness that permeates the rooms and coats the walls. I remember years ago when we helped my mother move from one house to the next, nicotine could be seen dripping down the walls, leaving a stain noticed only when a picture was removed, when a planter was picked up. I know now that was sadness, not merely evidence that she smoked constantly inside. My sorrow has tainted my home, my relationships, my desire to be nice. He comes home to this, exhausted from holding his mask in place and finds me, sitting on the couch, with nothing to offer. The painful reality that he has tried to avoid all day confronts him as he puts his key in the lock. Yes, many days I even want to scream at him and he already knows. My son died and my heart is failing. Our relationship is stained and coated with tears that won’t stop.

I am lucky to have those deep friendships to keep me stepping out into the world, telling me that it is okay when I say shitty nasty judgmental things, they accept my anger. It could be that they are paving a way out of this darkness, pushing my heart to function in my new normal. Maybe one day I will say the words out loud, I will be able to share orally that my son died and then know how to say something else. Today, I can’t, all my thoughts stop there. No new relationships, minimal interaction with strangers, venturing into public for short bursts and no eye contact, this is my current reality. I don’t even care enough to apologize. The things I am sorry for are much deeper than poor social skills, much wider than forgotten niceties.  My son died. His heart stopped and I can’t find a way to make mine beat again without screaming out in agony.  We both ceased being us on that day.  I know I will never again hear him laugh, I can’t imagine ever doing so again either. I will never again watch his smile brighten the room, see his eyes sparkle. I cannot find the strength to lift my own lips in greeting, my eyes are dulled by devastation.  The cobwebs grow around me as relationships falter, as interactions sputter to a halt. I don’t care anymore and I may never again.

Communion Sunday

The weekly exercise of celebrating communion as a Catholic was the highlight of going to church as a child. I loved the thin wafers, the solemn manner in which we all stood in line to approach the altar, the seriousness on even my brother’s faces as we participated with all who had studied and prayed and finally been accepted into the club of those who are worthy of receiving. I knew what the sacrament meant but I didn’t feel it, I was more interested in what all those around were doing, how it seemed to change everyone as they stood in line to open their mouths and drink from a shared cup. Folks who had just been napping, children who had been kicking the kneelers, suddenly all were as outwardly invested as the widow who never let her attention stray from the priest. My communion was with those around me but not yet with God.

My Methodist church celebrates this sacrament on the first Sunday of each month. For 3 or sometimes 4 weeks, I attend without this direct connection with God, without the reinforcement of His sacrifice and HIs desire to give me new life. It has become ever more a significant Sunday, I remind Plum that it is communion Sunday when he is wavering on his decision to join us. He, like me as a child, loves the ceremony or maybe just the sweet bread and the grape juice he dips it into. In fact he often asks at home for bread and a cup of grape juice to repeat the experience, I don’t think he is praying or receiving enlightenment, yet he knows the practice at church is special and he loves to relive it at home. Even with the opportunity to frequently enjoy those flavors as he sits on the couch, he always chooses to go when I remind him it is communion Sunday.

Keeping track of THE Sunday each month allows me to consider hours before I ever leave the house just what is going to be asked of me when I do get to church. Much before I am invited to the altar, I have been preparing to receive. I feel the heaviness of my soul as I consider my desire to be in communion with God, I recall the lightness as I return to me seat after opening my hands to this gift. The responsibility of it is never lost on me, yet sometimes communion hits me deeper, knocks my balance off, I stumble away and know God has asked of and offered more to me. Thus, after missing the last two weeks of church, the first Sunday because I was too sad and the next Sunday because I was too ill, I was well aware of the calendar date and what I was facing this week.

My anger over the loss of my son was initially directed at God, I had no desire to draw near to Him or to accept what He was handing out. Having healed from this rift, having confessed my blaming heart and my misplaced and outsized anger, I slowly have been making amends to God and accepting His nearness. But communion? An entirely different communication of my choice to be a supplicant, of my proclamation to seek Him out, of my declaration of an emptiness only He could fill. To be honest, even as I prepared for the day, I wasn’t confident I was ready to dive back in that fully, to talk with God that directly. I slyly mentioned to Chef that I wished he wasn’t going to miss it due to the class he takes during the service hour. I wanted him with me but I didn’t know how to ask him to sacrifice what he gains from the group just to prop me up, again. It felt selfish to ask someone to give more when I should be able to do it on my own. He replied that if I came to his classroom when it was time, he would duck out for a few minutes. A plan was created, I felt surer knowing he would be by my side.

The music began, my soul was being prepared to receive by breaking down my resistance, the pretend wholeness I was showing to those around me laid bare. My tears flowed freely. I was being readied to approach God out of my need rather than merely because of habit. I barely heard the sermon, couldn’t stay focused on the words my pastor was sharing. Instead I was anticipating the choice I was making, silent emptying of this vessel I brought into the building. God was no longer content to be near me, He wanted more. Was I willing to submit, to allow Him to patch up my brokenness with His love, could I agree to welcome the Holy Spirit directly into my pain? God and I have been dancing, my steps going back and His reaching forward, certainly through the example of His children as they have supported me and loved me and given space for my grief. Now though, He wanted to show me Himself.

As my pastor broke the loaf of bread, as he poured the glasses of juice, I was mesmerized by those symbols of sacrifice. I was transported back to the last supper, to a deeper understanding of God’s gift to me. Rushing out of the room to get Chef and Plum from their classes, I felt drawn back into the sanctuary, my urgency to commune was palpable.   Minimally aware of my surroundings, I approached the communion stewards, beautiful friends of ours who offered not just their own desire to hold us along this sorrowful path but also the welcoming of God. My hands opened and lifted up to receive, gently I held the bread and dipped it into the juice, the moment had arrived, would I, could I allow this into my body, could I commit to God’s redeeming presence in my soul?

What happened deeply, profoundly transformed me, my thanksgiving stuttered to God as I sank to my knees on the cushion by the altar, I can only say that my resistance vanished as the body and blood of Christ met my tongue, traveled into my body. My Chef met me as I sobbed before I could even return to my seat, an emissary of God, one who could surround me and hold me as I freed the tears and the pain, my emptiness replaced by God’s grace. I haven’t been right since, I am changed. I am solemn and serious and celebratory all at once, I know that God and I have built a direct line between us, no longer dependent at least for these few hours, on the work of His children. I communed with God and it was good.

It will be four more weeks before I have an opportunity to approach the altar with a humbled heart, willing to publicly announce my acceptance of the glory of God in my life. Where I will be on this grief journey by then is beyond my awareness. Will I grasp the gift, will I walk humbly up to receive? Will I avoid or reject out of rekindled anger? I am as unsure of the future regarding that choice as I am of my ability to leave the house each day to honor commitments I have made. Yet for this one morning, the first Sunday of the month, I walked further into my relationship with God. God offered Himself to me, I gave back my broken self and we communed. Bread and juice never tasted so good.

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.

Golden Friends

I screamed at Chef, I smacked my friend’s hands away as she tried to comfort me. I didn’t offer coffee to visitors, I am confident I neglected to say thank you for kindnesses. I asked dear friends to do unthinkable tasks, I haven’t responded to the emails and texts I received immediately after or each day since. Grief has altered my ability to reach out, to show my own compassion. The boxes of thank you notes sit untouched. Plans are made and I break them at the last minute, unable to face anyone or the day. As ugly as my face becomes as I sob, so my soul seems to be. Still, friends refuse to forsake me, my husband has accepted my outbursts and anger and continues to love me. I am surrounded by people who are walking out the directive from Romans 12:15, “ Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” More than ever, with any other loss, I know that supporting those who have shattered hearts is holy work, those who are able to cast aside their own needs and thicken their skin is surely the best example of Jesus I can find.

As memories of that morning when I learned my son was gone come seeping back in, I am appalled by the swirling tornado of anger that consumed me. Unable to accept the news meant I also was unable to allow others to hold me up as doing so meant it was true. Each day, each hour brings a message from someone who hasn’t forsaken me, who understands that I am not myself. My fear though is that I never again will be me. As someone who rarely experiences anger, who disregards the needs of others, I have become self-absorbed and only take take take, anger is my closest ally these days. How long will this behavior be accepted, allowed before friends slink away? I suspect I will be given the time needed. I hear my friend Janet’s words every day, “Be gentle with yourself,” yet I want to be better, to be closer to whole again. I can’t see that day coming, seems so far away.

I awake each morning with the news slamming into me before I have even opened my eyes. Horrible dreams haunt me, I can’t find escape. Then a text arrives, I rarely even acknowledge it, but someone tells me they are thinking of me right at that moment, they are praying for me. So I get up and make coffee, I tend to the beasts in our home. What folks may or may not realize, they are giving me enough air that I can breathe again. I should tell them how grateful I am, what they re truly giving to me. Yet the energy it takes to rise, to focus on washing dishes or listening for the beasts at the door means I have nothing else left. I give back nothing even as I know these friends are completely sustaining me. Being a support person to the grieving, accepting little bits of their pain to carry as your own, my God, who would want that job? My friends from all over apparently do.

My college friend drove us to see our son, a trip 70 miles away, my friend Janet came to my empty house just so I could take a shower. Meals keep arriving, Cathi accepted me into her home to not celebrate my birthday and she listened to me tell her things I surely had over and over. People stop me to offer a hug and then walk away, without asking that I share my story. Others like my pastor ask me how I really am and then fully listen without judgement to my angry words. Another friend is taking me to the grocery today, she says she doesn’t plan to cheer me up. Another friend told me that I am accepting life, that each day when I get up and come into church, that I am making a choice that is counter to what I want. She told me also that she is too is angry, she is with me in this pain. Another friend who also has suffered the loss of her son sat with me for almost 3 hours and let me probe into her life, to ask completely inappropriate questions and she took my grief on as well. Who does this stuff?  Grace filled people who are showing me God because I cannot look to Him. Someday I may follow their example, to be worthy of their care, just not now.

I wish I could relay all the generosity and delicate lifting I have experienced, the stories may come, but right now all I can do is praise those who come close, who haven’t backed away from my pain. I see each of you as the gold that is filling in the cracks of my soul, putting me back together, as in the practice of Kinsugi in Japan where cracked pottery is repaired with gold lacquer. If I am to survive this, it is only because others have gently, one by one, chosen to share their golden souls. I forget to say thanks but whisper it to the One who sent you. I tell Him that I am blessed, a momentary lapse of my resentment and rage. And I take another breath.

Joy is My Birthright

Every year for my birthday, Chef finds some way to celebrate big. Having never wanted attention focused solely on me, I have battled with him over this inclination, become frustrated that he throws a surprise party, that he includes many people, that he refuses to let the day slide by quietly as I would wish. Except here’s the thing, he is right. (Can we all agree never to tell him I said that?) My therapist was talking to me about my sense of self-worth, that I was created for joy and not merely to stumble from one trauma to the next. She shared with me that a friend has a tag line or that bit of something after her signature on every email she sends, that reads “Joy is your birthright.” My mind expanded immediately by the arrangement of those words, by the idea that joy is not something I could guiltily seek or grasp tiny moments of, that God did not make bad things happen to me but His desire for me, for you, was joy. He created me with the expectation that I was worthy of joy, every day, in the morning and as I drift off to sleep. He is angered that I, His child, have been fed lies, have been abused and damaged in such a way that I struggle to find my place with Him. I am heir to the Kingdom, as it is my birthright. As I grappled with this new way of thinking, demolishing old paradigms as acceptance grew, I realized I must celebrate my birthday. If I was to accept the basic premise of my birthright, I must shout out that I am worthy of celebrating because God made me and that alone is enough. I deserve joy. This was to be the big year for me to say yes to whatever Chef came up with and I was going to lean in to the friends who gathered, accept their presence as a celebration of our God and His promises. Then Arrow died, three weeks before my birthday and mostly all this work has unraveled.

Deep in the throes of my grief, angered at a God who didn’t protect my son, I obviously had no desire to mark this day or allow joy to enter into my space, my soul. Yet something unexpected happened as I sought to reject God and His joy.  I received Fb messages and texts that reminded me I am valued and people understand I am hurting. Folks were sensitive to my inability to celebrate, the pain of every days magnified by a special event and still they reached out. People were determined to let me know that I am loved and valued. Much as a skein of yarn looks attractive in color or maybe feels wonderfully soft, it isn’t until the knitter or crocheter begins to work with it, connecting stitches together, that something of real beauty and usefulness emerges. My friends from near and far sent tiny bits of joy that reinforced this transformation of me that God is seeking. Together they spun a thing of beauty out of my unraveled pieces, they told me what I was refusing to hear from God. I am still heir to the Kingdom, I am built for joy even in my sorrow.

This year more than ever I am deeply touched and so very grateful for all the birthday wishes and messages. You all keep sending out life lines and in spite of myself, I am grasping them. You are doing holy work right now, my friends. And just so you know, joy is YOUR birthright too. Shall we all hold each other tenderly and accept this new day?

What Does It Mean to Pray For Another?

Often when news of health crises, family discord, employment or financial unrest or the ultimate, the loss of a loved one travels through social media or is lifted up in our church,  the response is a quick “sending prayers.” One never can be sure that the words aren’t empty, that the promise of prayer is truly acted upon. Is the phrase tossed out as a way to make the speaker feel less helpless, is it said in haste, as a reflex like “bless you” when someone sneezes? I am guilty of repeating this assurance, knowing there is little else I have to offer to someone who is in my heart and is carrying pain I cannot ease. Is it enough to say I am praying for you, does it make any difference? My wonderings about the power of prayer, my own especially, wax and wane as the results I want don’t immediately appear. Yet as we have continued to breathe and eat and muster the strength required to get out of bed each new morning after the horrific news that came two Fridays ago, I am a believer in others faithfulness, if not my own ability to carry out the assurance. I know when friends and family say they are praying for us that someone is hearing those prayers. I am convinced because I can feel the pleadings to God from all those around us, I am the evidence of their power.

Sometimes prayers are more like wishes, as in a snow day request from a child, a winning basket or touchdown for our favorite team. These prayers are like our lists for Santa, have little to do truly with spirituality. Maybe our hopes are realized, maybe they aren’t this time, yet we have shared our desires with God in the midst of hopeful desperation. I have little belief in the words we lift up during these fevered moments, I think God is too busy with starving children and war torn countries for His intervention in sporting events. Still it seems significant that we turn to Him even with our wishes.

Some prayers come from abject fear, like those I spoke aloud to God each morning many year ago, as I drove to work before most others were awake, begging for the safety of my son as he experienced homelessness and seemed lost to me. I ranted and cried each morning in the silence of my car, begging God to do what I couldn’t, keep my child safe and bring him out of his addiction and home to us. Left with nothing else to do, no where else to turn, I sought out the One who I believed loved my child more than me. He eventually came back to us, extremely under weight, eyes clouded with experiences we would never fully know, bringing his broken body and deep misery to the safety of a new start with us. Whether it was my petition or just the next step that was always in the plan, I felt better for taking the only avenue left as a mother of an addict, I trusted God to hear me and I think He did.

I am better with the lifting of joys, the celebratory “Thank you God” that easily escapes my heart and lips when life is going well, when our Plum is bringing laughter and joy to our bruised souls. I firmly hold with confidence that those moments are from God, I carry the conviction of all good things are from Him during the realization of blessings that I certainly could not have engineered. Yet it often feels as if there is not enough joy to carry me through, to keep my firmly in the embrace of this God. Another blow comes, another round of troubles that I didn’t expect, and my joy blows away with the winter wind or the summer storm, elusive fleeting fragile.

We heard immediately that others were praying for us as the news spread that our 26 year old son took his last breath surrounded by pill bottles, as questions arose about our involvement in caring for his body one last time, as a cruel obituary was published in the local paper. We read the words on the cards that came, during the hugs we received, promised in texts and emails and social media messages. My anger, my exhaustion, my grief caused me to repel those words as useless. Where was God when my child started using again and I wasn’t given the opportunity to help him? No I wanted to fling those words back at those who offered them up, to exclaim loudly and forcefully that the God they were trusting had left me and my son when we most needed HIm. I didn’t want to be told to draw near to Him, this God who could have intervened and didn’t, what could I need or gain from seeking to bridge the divide that felt permanent? Still, something has been happening around me, within me during the darkness of my unbelief, something I have sought to deny and ignore. Your prayers are holding me up, as I resist being lifted. Your prayers are reminding me to breathe when I am removed from any desire to carry on living. I want to proclaim that your words are hollow, that God is not for me anymore, but even I cannot ignore your faith and trust.

As I entered church yesterday, the building that has been a true sanctuary during all of our upheaval all these years, I wanted to be invisible, I didn’t want others to know that I was studiously rejecting the very premise of our gathering. I wanted to shout that we had all been taken in, that this man called Jesus was a scam, that the Holy spirit was a figment of our imagination. Instead, I was greeted with hugs that held me up, with the kindest eyes that sought to free me from some small bit of my grief, with complete freedom to sit with my disbelief and even verbalize my inability to pray. I was given permission to question time and time again, told my lack of faith was welcome among these friends who understood my ache and promised to keep surrounding us with their faith. How can I argue with these generous grace filled people who seek not to change me but to provide a cushion as I fall, to offer words to the God I no longer believe hears me? My inability to pray, a broken connection I am nurturing in my anger, caused not one sliver of judgement among these people. They accepted the little I had to give, the minimal effort of just showing up, a doubting Thomas in their midst. They simply didn’t care that I was not joining in the singing and praising and worship. They offered their gifts to cover my inability to pay up, they covered my debt to God as if my blasphemous heart mattered not. I sat alone in the front row, our normal place inside the sanctuary, as Chef taught his Sunday school class and Plum puttered at my feet with his play doh and donut holes, fueled by my rejection of this God they began singing about. Then a tap on my shoulder, a hug of welcome. A dear friend who refuses to leave me alone sat with her family behind me, not in their usual row. Then worst of all, another sweet dear friend and her husband chose the seats on either side of me, ignoring the wall I was erecting between God and His followers. They held me as I cried, they sang the words of praise and desperation I refused to utter. What kind of God allows such heartache to shatter me and then pushes His people to offer His grace?

I cannot pray these days. I don’t want to, I prefer to yell at the One who was supposed to save my son for a glorious testimony one day. I want to reject and repel all those words of prayer that just keep coming at me. Alas I cannot because this God who knows I am silent and turning my back on Him is sending His promises through the love of His people. One friend told me it was okay with her that I couldn’t pray, she and others were doing it for me. She said she knew one day I would do the same for others, but not today. How can I deny the grace of God when I am accepted just as I am amongst these people? I can feel their intervention, their intercession inspite of myself. While I may not trust God right now, I find I am able to trust His followers. I think that is the point of us gathering to share our true hearts. God is surely rejoicing in His children at St. Andrew UMC, those who feel compelled to send messages and cards from all around the country. Faith in action, acting as his hands and feet, offering up His embrace through the arms of those who know words are not enough and will never be again, this is how I will learn to pray again one day.

In the midst of my darkness I can feel the warmth of all the tiny candles of hope that are offered. Someday I will tell you all how grateful I am, when I can feel thanksgiving once more. For now I hope it is enough to tell you I am still breathing because of you. I know your words are not empty, I trust what you say to me. Surely this God is rejoicing in you. Prayers offered are life giving, not mere wishes. I am blessed by you all, you light bringers, you burden lifters. Someday I may again be able to tell Him of your faithfulness and celebrate the rising of the sun again. I think though that He knows, that He is sending His children to us and will reward them all for hearing His voice and reaching into our darkness. If I ever begin talking to Him again, I think He will rejoice with me in you all. For today just know that I believe in your belief and have chosen to rise again to greet the new day. It is enough and it is huge.