Christian, grief and loss

Solo drives, Showers, and Worship

Carolyn had seen the muffled sobs that shook me in the pew and had come to gather  me into her arms. Despite having only met twice before, Carolyn ushered me from the sanctuary to a place where I could unload the agony burning inside me. My father had recently passed away, and I was a wreck.  Carolyn offered comfort and counsel while thousands of people worshiped God in the next room over. Carolyn met my need in the privacy of a ladies room. It was there where the Holy Spirit did a great work and helped to heal my hurt.

Each week for months after the passing of my father, I would return to church twice a week. Each worship time, I would find liquid emotion streaming down my face. The emotions that I had kept in check throughout the week could not  be contained. Worship is suppose to be about God; it’s suppose to be about praising Him and honoring him. For me, worship had become a place of raw emotion where I met with God. As the healing of my heart gradually occurred, I cried less and less.

God is good. God loves me. God is worthy of my praise, worship, adoration, and devotion even in the darkest moments of my life. Humbling myself into submission to God’s plan for my life week in and week out has been the core of my strength in troubled times.

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The death of my father, while agonizing, would not be the deepest loss I would face in life nor the last. In the 20 years since that time, I have shed too many tears to count. Yet, most of the times I have found myself giving into pain or grief have been times of solitude: the quiet car rides, showers, or restless nights. It seems natural to cry during such private moments when thoughts easily wander towards grief, but in the midst of a public worship service?

Crying in public is not socially acceptable. One can get away with it at funerals and weddings, but not walking down the grocery aisle or sitting at a Starbucks. So what makes worship different? I think two things.  The first is that safety of the body of Christ. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is our spiritual family. These are people in dwelt with the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that dwells in me. There is not merely a camaraderie, but there is literal power when the person seated near you sees your tears and lifts you up in prayer. It physically brings comfort and healing. The second reason I believe this to be true is that as an individual member of the universal body of Christ we are one. In this oneness, it is easy for us to melt into worship as if there is no one else around. We alone are worshiping God, and in that divine communion nothing else matters. Once we are drawn into the presence of the Living God it is easy to be swept up in the moment.

So when you sit in church and see someone with tears streaming down their cheeks or wiping away that tear from the corner of their eye, lift them up in prayer. If God is calling you to personally minister to them, don’t ignore that call. However, for the most part, there is no need to interrupt the healing work the Holy Spirit is doing. And if you find yourself needing to cry, let it happen. Let the Great Physician do his work.

He is good. All the time.

 

 

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family, women

Having it All

As women, I think we feel this pressure to “have it it all” or at least have what we do have all together. We want to be content and competent and loved and valued. These are all good things. They are not, however, easy to achieve. We talk about the elusive work life balance. We talk about “having it all, but maybe just not all at the same time.” What does that mean even?

Here is what I have all of:

All the exhaustion:

I am tired ALL THE TIME. I can’t even remember a time when I wasn’t tired. It was before having kids for sure. I thought once they slept through the night, I’d be rested again, but nope. And bonus, everyone keeps telling me that once menopause starts I’m going to start having insomnia. Seriously? What a genetic load of garbage. So basically, by the time I’m actually able to relax again with my kids out of the house, my body will actually reject sleep. I can’t not tell you how I really feel about this because I’m a good Christian girl.

All the confliction:

If I am at work, I am thinking about what I should be doing for my husband or kids. When I am at home, I am thinking about what I should be doing for work. I am always thinking about how I should be serving more (in my church, my community, my world). I am thinking about how the time and expense of my writing “career” is taking away time and financial resources from my family. I am confident that I am missing out on my kids lives in ways that will irreparably damage them. I don’t even use Pintrest, because I already have enough guilt in my life. Thank you, unrealistic expectations.

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All the feels:

I occasionally see this phrase and think this describes me exactly. I feel things so deeply. I cry just about everyday. Not in a bad way, but in the maybe I’m not completely emotionally stable way. I tear up reading novels to my students in class. Novels I have ready half a dozen times by now. I get choked up during movies I am only half paying attention to. I think about my son at college and I get choked up thinking about the man he has become. I cry in grief, in joy, in pretty much any context. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I feel all the feels.

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All the chaos:

I dreamed of having a lovely family life where my children were polite and calm and we took walks in the woods and always helped each other. We’d be those people at all those town fairs or the ones taking day trips on the weekends. I should have known better. I came from an eccentric, crazy (read: AWESOME) home, and about the only thing I was able to bring to my new home was the crazy part. We are more of a “watch movies in our PJs” than “stroll through a quaint Christmas village” family . We are more loud voices and bickering than homemade Valentines and family service projects. Our separate lives mingle together more like a Jackson Pollack than Seurat.

This is my family <or life>. I found it all on my own.
It’s little, and broken, but still good. Yeah – still good.
– Stitch from Lilo and Stitch

So, no, I don’t really have it all. I don’t want it all. I’m still trying to juggle the plates I’m already spinning.  I’d rather drop a few of the less important ones, than keep going at this pace. I want less rather than more. I want less commitments, less stress, less frantic, less inches in my waistline. (But more doughnuts!)

 

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politics

What Could Be More Important Than Voting?

Election Day is right around the corner, and I have no idea who I’m voting for. To be honest, outside of the school board election, I don’t even know what offices are even up for election. I know I got a ballad in the mail that is somewhere in the pile of mail on my kitchen counter, but I haven’t opened it. Don’t get me wrong; this matters. Who we elect as leaders for our schools, communities, states, and nation, does matter. The referendum questions matter. I want to vote wisely. I believe my vote matters, and yet, here I am completely uninformed. I care about this; heck, I teach this. So why the disconnect? It’s because there are other things that also matter that take me away from becoming informed.

 

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Here is a list of things that also matter:

  • Spending time with my family matters.
  • Going on dates with my husband matters
  • Eating matters, which means grocery shopping, cooking and doing dishes also matters.
  • My job matters.
  • Reading my Bible and spending time praying matters.
  • Going to church matters.
  • Finding ways to volunteer and serve others matters.
  • Spending time with my friends matters.
  • Relaxing (ie. Shutting my brain down) matters.
  • Sleep matters.
  • Cleaning up my house matters.
  • Doing something I love that makes me feel good matters.

I’m sure this list could be longer, but you get the point.

I check the internet news, at least several times as week. My go-to site is the BBC, because I feel it to be the least full of crap. (I believe that is the technical term for totally biased journalism.) It actually has better US news coverage than US news stations. It also means what little I know about what is going on in politics has nothing to do with state or local issues.

This is not an excuse. Before Tuesday, I intend to do some research and do my best to make an informed decision. However, I also know that as important as this decision is, it’s not the only important thing I need to be thinking about in life. Get out and vote. Take some time to do some research. Pray over the options. But don’t beat yourself up because you aren’t as knowledgeable as you’d like to be. You can’t do it all and know it all.

And for those of you running for office, doing all you do to make your school, town, county, state, and nation a better place, Thank you! Best of luck on Tuesday!

 

 

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book review, elder care, women

Life with Extra Cheese: A Book Review

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Many of you know that I’m working on my own book about caring for my mother through her illness and death. And because you know me, you also know that this is a dark comedy. Well, as part of the market research for my book proposal, I began looking for books that would be similar to my own. That’s when I found Heather Davis’ book Life with Extra Cheese. It was HYSTERICAL!
I picked this book up on Amazon and began reading it slowly as I fumbled my way through writing a book proposal and beginning the first weeks of school. The last thing I had time for was pleasure reading, and yet I couldn’t help but grab it any chance I got. I even read several passages aloud to my husband, who is used to being the target of the overflow of my excitement.

The Sandwich Generation: (n) A group of people, typically in their 30’s and 40’s, who are raising their own children while also caring for aging parents.

Heather Davis really nailed life in the sandwich generation. From her opening passage when her sister calls to say her mother is on her way to the hospital, to her daughter’s desire to use the shower chair, to getting frisky with your husband while your mother in the house, everything was spot on. This book really nailed the crazy moments, the hard moments, and the beautiful moments. I loved that she understood the struggle of the working mother torn between so many responsibilities, motivated by love and family, and just plain tired. This is the sandwich generation struggle in a nutshell, a hilarious nutshell.

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In short, buy this book! You’ll love it.

 

You can find more by Heather Davis here.

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Adulting, family

The Yes Game or How to Travel with Your Mother

After my father passed away I wanted to ease my mother’s loss by doing some traveling with her, something her and Dad had done together. However, after I got married, I spending extended time with my mom could be frustrating. We had very different ideas of what family travel looked like. I recall one long weekend my mother, my sister, and I traveled to Lancaster County, PA. Upon returning home I told my husband that 48 hours was about the maximum amount of time I could spend with my family in a single hotel room before wanted to bang my head against the wall. And, don’t even get me started on what a cross country camping trip looks like with my mom.
Once I had kids, this got a little more complicated. Mom wasn’t great at saying what she wanted, and I wanted to maintain some semblance of normal parenting for my kids (i.e. 3 large desserts the same night is not okay). This meant we would sometimes be passive aggressive or bicker like an old couple. While we had some fun vacations, including a trip to Disney, I began dreading taking the kids up to Vermont for time with their grandmom.

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Then, Jay made a suggestion. Make a game of it: The Yes game. Whatever your mom suggests, just say yes to. No conflict, just say yes. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try. Here’s how it went.

Mom: Do you want to go to the Maple Museum tomorrow?
Me: YES! Of course I do.
Mom: Great. I’ve wanted to take you there. The kids will love it.
(Arrive at Maple Museum. )
Mom: I’m going to stay in the car. My knees are bad, and I was here last week with friends. Take your time.
*Me in utter disbelief: WHAT THE WHAT?

Mom: Do you want to go to the Bennington Battle Monument?
Me: YES!
(Arrive at monument.)
Mom: I’m going to stay in the car. I can’t walk up all those steps.
*Me thinking: I guess that makes sense, but why are we here?

Mom: Those statues are all around town, on the way home, do you want to take some pictures with the kids and them?
Me: Yes! That sounds like fun.
Mom: I’m not going to get out. I’ve seen them before. You take the kids, and I’ll wait.
*Me thinking: This is actually getting pretty funny now.

Pretty much, this was the entire week. I said yes to everything Mom asked about. Mom did approximately none of these things. And you know what? The kids had a great time. I had a surprisingly good time. And Mom, sure seemed like she had good time. What Mom really wanted to do was show us her world, the things that interested her, and the town she considered her second home. I learned a lot that week, both about how to make for a low conflict family vacation, but also about what brought my mom joy. So, do I enjoy traveling with my family? YES! Of course I do!

Rhode Island

 

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family, grief and loss

School Pictures and Dorian Gray

October is that time of year when school children all across America are bringing home portrait packages. Parents will wonder at how fast their children are growing up. For us, however, we decided that we wouldn’t be purchasing a package this year. Last I heard, college students don’t bring home those adorable posed shots so only our youngest would be receiving school photos this year. Additionally, since the loss of our son last year, the idea of updated family photos this year took on increased urgency.

It was my desire to take individual photos of our kids that would more closely resemble the last photos we have of Sean. Sean’s portrait, taken at our last family session, had an autumn backdrop. It sat in a 4-photo frame next to posed school photos of our other three kids. As I removed the old school photos of our three children to replace with the newer pictures from this summer’s shoot, I was taken a back by my own emotions. Sean would never age. The changes in the faces of our other children were blatantly obvious, but Sean would never have a new photo. He would forever be 31. Each year the vast age difference between Sean and our other kids will shrink until in time, God willing, they will surpass his years. It brought to mind the dark classic, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Unlike the story, this portrait is a blessing not a curse. Painful, yes, but how grateful I am that we made the time four years back to gather together and take those family photos.

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As difficult as this realization was, there were a few take aways from that brief moment of grief.

  • Moms: Get in the picture. One day your kids will be so grateful to see your face on vacation, on Christmas morning, at the beach, or cooking dinner. Document both the ordinary and the extraordinary.
  • Schedule family photos. Don’t just buy the school pictures. School pictures don’t include the rest of the family. Maybe alternate years with school photos one year and family the next.
  • Let your kids be themselves (I say with trepidation), and don’t Photo Shop out the realness. If your kid has blue hair and a nose ring or they refuse to wear anything but a tutu, that’s what you want to remember about this moment.
  • Pictures make fleeting moments timelessness. They connect us to our loved ones, our history, and the moments that made us who we are.
  • Balance is important. Don’t get so wrapped up in capturing every moment that you never experience anything. Two photos from a day at the zoo or ten from a week’s vacation is really all that you will want to look at a decade from now anyway, so just grab one or two here and there.

I’m ever grateful for the moments that we have captured in photographs of my parents and my kids. What photos do you most treasure of a loved one that you’ve lost?

 

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food, refugee, social justice

A Taste of Hope After the Long Journey

 

Quietly and with only the barest of necessities, a family leaves the only home they have known. They are fearful of being apprehended by authorities, so they travel at night. Moving from safe house to safe house, organized by a system of compassionate local heroes, these people sleep during the day in preparation for their nighttime journeys. When darkness falls, husbands and wives, fathers and daughters are separated as they walk in groups across the wilderness towards freedom. Mothers pray that their small children won’t cry because if they do they will need to do the unthinkable lest the safety of the numerous other travelers be endangered. It is this exact kind of collateral damage we try to push from our minds when we think about the cost of freedom, but this trek ends not in freedom, but rather in a holding camp, a purgatory of sorts. Crossing the border, leaving their homeland, leaves them once again at the mercy of strangers, but for those who make it, it may be the beginning of a new life.

History has seen this scene played out time and time again, in various continents and ages. In America, we saw the Underground Railroad carry thousands of people to freedom from the hands of slave masters. Europe saw a similar story as Jews were smuggled out of Nazi occupied lands. Today, this scene plays out in the Middle East and parts of Africa where thousands of people are seeking refuge from the atrocities of civil war in Syria or the terrorism of ISIS and Boko Haram. The setting might change, but the characters are largely the same. There are the brave yet fearful families willing to risk an uncertain future that is more secure than the known terror of their homeland. There are local heroes, risking their own security to help strangers on their way to a better life. There are receivers, who are at the end of the long journey, helping people make their way in a new and unfamiliar land.

Last weekend, my friend and I had the privilege or sitting down and hearing Aminah share her story, a story that is sadly all too common. A Syrian refuge, her and her family fled her homeland to a refuge camp in Jordan, waiting through the numerous government background checks and approvals, and was ultimately relocated to Connecticut, arriving in America the past November on election day. Through the work of Sanctuary Kitchen and hosted by Displaced Kitchens, Aminah cooked brunch for the twenty or so people attending the Refugee Food and Art Festival in New York City organized by Komeeda. While we ate Kufta and Eggs, Syrian Fettah, and Foul Madams, Aminah open her heart to us. We ate and cried with her. We were drawn into her pain and her blessings. She welcomed us with food and vulnerability. At the end we also met several people who were part of organizations that are helping her find employment and establish her family in this strange new land and were offered the chance to help her and others find employment in the food industry. We got a taste of what it is like to be a refugee in this day and age and the chance to see the face of everyday ordinary heroes. It was a satisfying meal in so many ways.

If you would like to support the work of Komeeda or Sanctuary Kitchen, please head over to their websites. You can find opportunities to join one of their delicious events or donate to the work they are doing.

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