It has been a long 18 months of dwelling deeply in all kinds of “supposes” and “what ifs” because people were being crushed by a virus right and left.
I understand this kind of thinking, particularly when “in the moment” tragedies, (like a Florida condo building collapsing in the middle of the night) play out real-time in the palm of our hand in front of our eyes and we feel helpless to do anything but watch it unfold.
Those who know me well know I can fret and worry better than most. Medical training only makes this worse. I’m taught to think catastrophically. That is what I have done for a living – to always be ready for the worse case scenario and simply assume it will happen.
Sometimes it does happen and no amount of wishing it away will work.
When I rise, too often sleepless, to face a day of uncertainty as we all do ~ after careful thought, I reach for the certainty I am promised over the uncertainty I can only imagine:
What is my only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong —body and soul, in life and in death— to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Supposing it didn’t” — says our Lord (and we are comforted by this) but even if it did … even if it did – as awful things sometimes do – we are never abandoned.
He is with us always.
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We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind; In the primal sympathy Which having been must ever be;
Thanks to the human heart by which we live, Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears, To me the meanest flower that blows can give Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears. ~William Wordsworth from “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”
Twenty-six years ago today we watched at your bedside as you labored, readying yourself to die and we could not help except to be there while we watched you move farther away from us.
This dying, the hardest work you had ever done:
harder than handling the plow behind a team of draft horses, harder than confronting a broken, alcoholic and abusive father, harder than slashing brambles and branches to clear the woods, harder than digging out stumps, cementing foundations, building roofs, harder than shipping out, leaving behind a new wife after a week of marriage, harder than leading a battalion of men to battle on Saipan, Tinian and Tarawa, harder than returning home so changed there were no words, harder than returning to school, working long hours to support family, harder than running a farm with only muscle and will power, harder than coping with an ill wife, infertility, job conflict, discontent, harder than building your own pool, your own garage, your own house, harder than your marriage ending, a second wife dying, and returning home forgiven.
Dying was the hardest of all as no amount of muscle or smarts could stop it crushing you, taking away the strength you relied on for 73 years.
So as you lay helpless, moaning, struggling to breathe, we knew your hard work was complete and what was yet undone was up to us to finish for you.
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There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, The earth, and every common sight, To me did seem Apparell’d in celestial light, The glory of a dream.
The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose; The moon doth with delight Look round her when the heavens are bare; Waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair; The sunshine is a glorious birth; But yet I know, where’er I go, That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.
Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind. ~William Wordsworth from Intimations of Immortality
I woke immersed in sadness; it doesn’t happen often. Whether a dream surrounded me in sorrow, or perhaps the weight of grayness of the morning, I couldn’t tell.
I felt burdened and weepy, wondering where hope had fled just overnight.
Even though I know true glory lies beyond this soil, I still look for it here, seeking encouragement in midst of trouble. I set out to find light which clothes the ordinary, becoming resplendent and shimmering from celestial illumination.
Though I may sometimes grieve for what is lost, there is enough, there is always enough each morning to remind me God’s gift of grace and strength transforms this day and every day.
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I am hardly ever able to sort through my memories and come away whole or untroubled. It is difficult to sift through the stones, the weighty moments and know which is rare gem, which raw coal, which worthless shale or slate. So, one by one, I drag them across the page and when one cuts into the white, leaves a trail of blood, no matter how narrow the stream, then I know I’ve found the real thing, the diamond, one of the priceless gems my pain produced. “There! There,” I say, “is a memory worth keeping.” ~Nikki Grimes“Poems”
I have tucked-away memories that still scratch my tender skin: when they surface, I tend to bleed at the recollection, feeling the familiar sting behind my eyelids and upside-down stomach.
Some people work hard to completely bury painful history, unwilling to allow it back into the daylight to inflict even more harm.
I don’t welcome overwhelming memories back, but when they come unbidden, I grant them access only because I know, as this happened to me long ago, I will feel the sharp ache of sorrow when I witness bleeding in another.
I was there too. I am there with you now. What happened was real but done. Its healing leaves behind only a thin line where the bleeding was.
The barn roof sags like an ancient mare’s back. The field, overgrown, parts of it a marsh where the pond spills over. No hay or sacks of grain are stacked for the cold. In the harsh winters of my youth, Mama, with an axe, trudged tirelessly each day through deep snow, balanced on the steep bank, swung down to crack the ice so horses could drink. With each blow I feared she would fall, but she never slipped. Now Mama’s bent and withered, vacant gray eyes fixed on something I can’t see. I dip my head when she calls me Mom. What’s to say? The time we have’s still too short to master love, and then, the hollow that comes after. ~Kitty Carpenter “Farm Sonnet”
Vigil at my mother’s bedside
Lying still, your mouth gapes open as I wonder if you breathe your last. Your hair a white cloud Your skin baby soft No washing, digging, planting gardens Or raising children Anymore. Hollowed.
Where do your dreams take you? At times you wake in your childhood home of Rolling wheat fields, boundless days of freedom. Other naps take you to your student and teaching days Grammar and drama, speech and essays. Yesterday you were a young mother again Juggling babies, farm and your wistful dreams.
Today you looked about your empty nest Disguised as hospital bed, Wondering aloud about Children grown, flown. You still control through worry and tell me: Travel safely Get a good night’s sleep Take time to eat Call me when you get there
I dress you as you dressed me I clean you as you cleaned me I love you as you loved me You try my patience as I tried yours. I wonder if I have the strength to Mother my mother For as long as she needs.
When I tell you the truth Your brow furrows as it used to do When I disappointed you~ This cannot be A bed in a room in a sterile place Waiting for death Waiting for heaven Waiting
And I tell you: Travel safely Eat, please eat Sleep well Call me when you get there.
Your cold mornings are filled with the heartache about the fact that although we are not at ease in this world, it is all we have, that it is ours but that it is full of strife, so that all we can call our own is strife; but even that is better than nothing at all, isn’t it?
…rejoice that your uncertainty is God’s will and His grace toward you and that that is beautiful, and part of a greater certainty…
…be comforted in the fact that the ache in your heart and the confusion in your soul means that you are still alive, still human, and still open to the beauty of the world, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. ~Paul Harding in Tinkers
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. John 21:12
It is so easy to let go of Easter — slide back into the work-a-day routine, and continue to merely survive each day with gritted teeth as we did before.
God knows this about us.
So, in our anguish and oblivion, He feeds us after He is risen, an astonishingly tangible and meaningful act of nourishing us in our most basic human needs though we’ve done nothing to deserve the gift:
Sharing a meal and breaking bread in Emmaus to open the eyes and hearts of the blinded.
Cooking up fish over a charcoal fire on a beach at dawn and inviting us to join Him.
Reminding us again and again and again – if we love Him as we say we do, we will feed His sheep.
When He offers me a meal, I will accept it with newly opened eyes of gratitude, knowing the gift He hands me is nothing less than Himself.
All winter your brute shoulders strained against collars, padding and steerhide over the ash hames, to haul sledges of cordwood for drying through spring and summer, for the Glenwood stove next winter, and for the simmering range.
In April you pulled cartloads of manure to spread on the fields, dark manure of Holsteins, and knobs of your own clustered with oats. All summer you mowed the grass in meadow and hayfield, the mowing machineclacketing beside you, while the sun walked high in the morning;
and after noon’s heat, you pulled a clawed rake through the same acres, gathering stacks, and dragged the wagon from stack to stack, and the built hayrack back, uphill to the chaffy barn, three loads of hay a day from standing grass in the morning.
Sundays you trotted the two miles to church with the light load a leather quartertop buggy, and grazed in the sound of hymns. Generation on generation, your neck rubbed the windowsill of the stall, smoothing the wood as the sea smooths glass.
When you were old and lame, when your shoulders hurt bending to graze, one October the man, who fed you and kept you, and harnessed you every morning, led you through corn stubble to sandy ground above Eagle Pond, and dug a hole beside you where you stood shuddering in your skin,
and lay the shotgun’s muzzle in the boneless hollow behind your ear, and fired the slug into your brain, and felled you into your grave, shoveling sand to cover you, setting goldenrod upright above you, where by next summer a dent in the ground made your monument.
For a hundred and fifty years, in the Pasture of dead horses, roots of pine trees pushed through the pale curves of your ribs, yellow blossoms flourished above you in autumn, and in winter frost heaved your bones in the ground – old toilers, soil makers:
O Roger, Mackerel, Riley, Ned, Nellie, Chester, Lady Ghost. ~Donald Hall, “Names of Horses”
As a child, I regularly visited the horse grave dug by hand by my father in 1965 in an open clearing of our woods where our little chestnut mare, Dolly, rested in the ground.
She was felled by a vet’s bullet to the head after an agonizing bout with colic. I had returned to the house, unable to watch, but could not help but hear the gunshot as if it had gone through me as well.
At first her grave was a place to cry where no one but the trees and wild flowers could see.
When my tears dried up, it was a place to sing loudly where no one but chipmunks and my dog could hear.
Later it became the sanctuary where I retreated to talk to God when my church no longer was.
Her bones lie there still and no one but me knows where. The dent in the ground will always betray the spot.
My Lord, my Lord, Long have I cried out to Thee In the heat of the sun, The cool of the moon, My screams searched the heavens for Thee. My God, When my blanket was nothing but dew, Rags and bones Were all I owned, I chanted Your name Just like Job.
Father, Father, My life give I gladly to Thee Deep rivers ahead High mountains above My soul wants only Your love But fears gather round like wolves in the dark. Have You forgotten my name? O Lord, come to Your child. O Lord, forget me not.
You said to lean on Your arm And I’m leaning You said to trust in Your love And I’m trusting You said to call on Your name And I’m calling I’m stepping out on Your word.
Into the alleys Into the byways Into the streets And the roads And the highways Past rumor mongers And midnight ramblers Past the liars and the cheaters and the gamblers. On Your word On Your word. On the wonderful word of the Son of God. I’m stepping out on Your word. ~Maya Angelou from “Just Like Job”
Once again — and again and again — bullets have been fired out of evil intent by disturbed and hate-filled men, striking down people who look (and are) just like us.
Weeping never needs translation or interpretation, no matter what color cheeks they moisten.
Distrust and fear continue to impact us daily, settling like a shroud over the most routine activities – going to school, going grocery shopping, going to church. It isn’t just a virus that threatens us; it is being targeted in someone’s gun sight.
In order to even walk out the door in the morning, we must fall back on what we are told, each and every day, in 365 different verses in God’s Word itself:
Do not be overwhelmed with evil but overcome evil with good.
We shall overcome despite evil and our fear of each other.
The goal of this life is to live for others, to live in such a way that death cannot erase the meaning and significance of a life. We are called to give up our selfish agendas in order to consider the dignity of others and their greater good. We are called to keep weapons out of the hands of those who would use them to harm themselves or others, which means better screening, longer waiting periods, improved tracking of ownership.
It is crystal clear from Christ’s example as we observe His journey to the cross over the next week: we are to cherish life, all lives, born and unborn, even unto death. Christ forgave those who hated and murdered Him.
Our only defense against the evil we witness is God’s offense. Only God can lead us to Tolkien’s “where everything sad will come untrue”, where we shall live in peace, walk hand in hand, no longer alone, no longer afraid, no longer shedding tears of grief and sorrow, but tears of relief and joy.
We shall all be free. We shall overcome because God does.
We shall overcome
We shall live in peace
We’ll walk hand in hand
We shall all be free
We are not afraid
We are not alone
God will see us through
We shall overcome
Oh, deep in my heart I do believe We shall overcome some day
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…. The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Strength to Love
The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal. ~C.S. Lewis from A Grief Observed
For thus says the LORD of hosts, Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts. Haggai 2:6-7
She recognizes its crest in the way he looks at her. The wave is as vast as the roiling mass in the Japanese Print they had paused in front of at the museum, Capped with ringlets of foam, all surging sinew. That little village along the shore would be Totally lost. There is no escaping this. The wave is flooding his heart, And he is sending the flood Her way. It rushes Over her.
In March 2012, we stayed with our friends Brian and Bette Vander Haak at their cabin on a bluff just above the beach at Sendai, Japan, just a few dozen feet above the devastation that wiped out an entire fishing village below during the 3/11/11 earthquake and tsunami. We walked that stretch of beach, learning of the stories of the people who had lived there, some of whom did not survive the waves that swept their houses and cars away before they could escape. We walked past the footprints of foundations of hundreds of demolished homes, humbled by the rubble mountains yet to be hauled away to be burned or buried and scanned acres of wrecked vehicles now piled one on another, waiting to become scrap metal. It was visual evidence of life suddenly and unexpectedly disrupted.
This was a place of recreation and respite for some who visited regularly, commerce and livelihood for others who stayed year round and then, in ongoing recovery efforts, was struggling to be restored to something familiar. Yet it looked like a foreign ghostly landscape. Even many trees perished, lost, broken off, fish nets still stuck high on their scarred trunks. There were small memorials to lost family members within some home foundations, with stuffed animals and flowers wilted from the recent anniversary observance.
It was a powerful place of memories for those who lived there and knew what it once was, how it once looked and felt, and painfully, what it became in a matter of minutes on 3/11. The waves swept in inexplicable suffering, then carried their former lives away. Happiness gave ground to such terrible pain. It could never have hurt as much without the joy that preceded it.
We want to ask God why He doesn’t do something about the suffering that happens anywhere a disaster occurs –but if we do, He will ask us the same question right back: why don’t you do something about the suffering you see around you?
We need to be ready with our answer and our action.
God knows suffering, far more than we do. He took it all on Himself, feeling His pain amplified, as it was borne out of His love and joy in His creation.
Now ten years later, on March 11, beautiful Tohoku and Sendai, and its dedicated survivors have mostly recovered, but their inner and outer landscape is forever altered. What remains the same is the tempo of the waves, the tides, and the rhythm of the light and the night, happening just as originally created.
In that realization, our pain gives way as God soars above the storm. Pain cannot stand up to His love, His joy, and His sacrifice on our behalf.
Hide me now Under Your wings Cover me Within Your mighty hand
When the oceans rise and thunders roar I will soar with You above the storm Father, you are King over the flood I will be still, know You are God
Find rest, my soul In Christ alone Know His power In quietness and trust
In the cemetery a mile away from where we used to live, my aunts and mother my father and uncles lie in two long rows, almost the way they used to sit around the long planked table at family dinners. And walking beside the graves today, down one straight path and up the next, I don’t feel sad, exactly, just left out a bit, as if they kept from me the kind of grown-up secret they used to share back then, something I’m not quite ready yet to learn. ~Linda Pastan “Unveiling” from Carnival Evening
Some family gatherings can wait. I don’t feel ready yet to learn what they all now know posthumously, in their tidy rows in peaceful settings. I feel some curiosity as I wander among them, realizing my invitation is coming, most likely before I wish to receive it.
I nod to one and then another, greeting them as I used to when we gathered around the same dinner table. To those I never met but share DNA, I introduce myself, hoping to make a good impression.
They still have their secrets, as they always had. And I try not to ask too many questions. No, not yet.
“Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Psalm 55:6
Some glad morning when this life is over I’ll fly away To a home on God’s celestial shore I’ll fly awayI’ll fly away, oh, Glory I’ll fly away When I die, Hallelujah, by and by I’ll fly awayJust a few more weary days and then I’ll fly away To a land where joy shall never end I’ll fly awayI’ll fly away, oh, Glory I’ll fly away When I die, Hallelujah, by and by I’ll fly awayYeah, when I die, Hallelujah, by and by I’ll fly away