25 October 2015

what's in a tense?

maybe you know the feeling...sitting or standing in church, and you find yourself singing along to the words of a song you're not so sure you can really agree with...maybe it's a season of life, maybe it's an issue you've long struggled with...and then there are others.  There are songs that you can hardly bring yourself to sing because they represent so much of what you long for it feels unreal that it could possibly be true.

The last few weeks I've felt both.

11 October:  
"Table of Plenty"  (Daniel L. Schutte)
Refrain: Come of the feast of heaven and earth!  Come to the table of plenty! God will provide for all that we need, here at the table of plenty. 

1. O come and sit at my table where saints and sinners are friends.
I wait to welcome the lost and lonely to share the cup of my love.  

2. O come and eat without money; come to drink without price.
My feast of gladness will feed your spirit with faith and fullness of life.  

3. My bread will ever sustain you through days of sorrow and woe.
My wine will flow like a sea of gladness to flood the depths of your soul.  

4. Your fields will flower in fullness; your homes will flourish in peace.  
For I, the giver of home and harvest, will send my rain on the soil.
 I couldn't.  I wasn't "feelin' it" to say the least.  My friends in South Sudan are quite literally running for their lives.  They have been forced from their homes by violence between groups claiming to want what's best for them, by tanks and air gunships firing on their homes, they're leaving their homes with whatever food they can carry on their backs/heads.  It's rainy season.  It rains...ahem, POURS...every day.  Sometimes ALL DAY.  They're sleeping in the bush.  Under trees.  You know that feeling when you get drenched in a downpour when leaving the grocery store as you run to your car?  You can't wait to get home to put on dry clothes?  What if there was no home to go to.  No dry clothes to put on.  No dry wood to make a fire to warm up by.  It's these little things that make their reality easier to imagine or relate to.  And then this Daniel L. Schutte fellow wants me to believe that my God,  my friends' God, is the giver of home and harvest?  Here at the table of plenty??!?!?!  Where?  what table?  The table of the "American Dream" the western table of luxury and choice and options?  The table set for a few?  My friends know not such a table.  This is my reaction.

HOWEVER.  We have an email chain, in which we share communications we've had with our South Sudanese friends.  And throughout the reports of conversations with all different people on the ground there, there is one overwhelmingly consistent thread.  "Lu mbara be"  (God is Greater).  Our friends consistently say 2 things:  "Pray for us/do not forget us" and "Lu mbara be."  They seem to know Him better than I.  These, my friends, who are suffering so, are, at least at times, better aware of the fact that God is greater than their circumstances.  Better aware than I am.  Maybe they'd been able to sing.  Maybe they'd be able to sing their hearts out in longing for such a table of plenty.  Maybe they'd rejoice for those times past when they've feasted on goat and beef and rice and tea sweet enough to make your hair stand on end...times when they have known such a table.  Surely they'd put my unbelief to shame.

18 October:
"We will feast in the house of Zion"
(Sandra McCracken & Joshua Moore)

We will feast in the house of Zion. We will sing with our hearts restored.
"He has done great things," we will say together.
We will feast and weep no more.

We will not be burned by the fire, he is the Lord our God.
We are not consumed by the flood; upheld protected gathered up.

In the dark of night before the dawn, my soul, be not afraid,
for the promised morning O, how long? O God of Jacob, be my strength.

Every vow we've broken and betrayed; you are the faithful one;
and from the garden to the grave, bind us together, bring shalom.

For some reason, only one week later, the feasting was more believable...was something I could grab ahold of.  I couldn't quite put my finger on why.  Until I realized that perhaps it was the verb tenses.  "Table of plenty" seems to communicate a plenty we know now, a sustenance "through sorrow and woe"...a feast table where everyone's friends, where fields produce everything you need to flourish, where there's peace in abundance.  I couldn't get on board.  It's just not the reality that so much of the world is experiencing, let alone my friends.

But, "We will feast" felt different.  It felt an acknowledgement of the floods, the dark of night, the vows broken, the betrayals, the tears...and a proclamation that one day we will weep no more.  That on the other side of the now, we will have hindsight and the the view of God's faithfulness, having done great things.  Our hearts restored while feasting at HIS table.  It felt like it was holding claim of what is to come.

Maybe some of you theological or grammar scholars would say I'm wrong, would dissect the verbiage in both songs and say they're both saying the same thing.  That's fine.  They still *felt* different to me.  And as I write, I realize that maybe it's not the verb tenses after all...maybe it's the presence of lament in the latter...you could call it the "tone."  The first was a "cheer up! this is what's true!"  which I didn't and don't feel capable of, and the latter is a "it's achingly hard now, and one day, that ache will be gone" and to THAT I say AMEN.  Let it be so.

13 August 2015

"so that we could all have birthdays..."

Friday Night Lights.  Matt Saracen.  It's a show that's been around the block for a while now, but I'm just catching on (Job hunting is good for binge watching, ya know?!).  The episode I just watched, the character named Matt Saracen is faced with having to bury his father who died in the war in Iraq.  In his eulogy at his dad's burial he speaks of his dad's service to his country.  He speaks of the birthdays his dad missed while serving overseas, and then he spoke of his realization that his dad missing his birthdays was a service done so that he and everyone else standing around the casket that day could have birthdays to celebrate.

The tears started much earlier in the episode for me, but it's this line that I remember.

I'm looking for a job.  And for the first time in my life, it's been a long and discouraging process.  It'd still be long and discouraging even if my mom were around...it seems employers have trouble translating 5 years of experience of nursing in E. Africa into experience that might be beneficial to their American healthcare setting..it seems 18 months of part-time remote admin work done while caring for your terminally ill mother requires explanation...explanation I haven't effectively done without face to face time during an interview, which I can't get because it all requires explanation (I know I know, entre cover letter re-vamping)...and my mom couldn't fix that for me.  But she could have listened. And when she had two good arms to do it with, she could have given me a hug when I was down and discouraged by it all.  She would have been my I'm-a-nurse-and-I-understand-the-system sounding board and encouraged me that with God, we never know what's going on behind the scenes.  She was good at this stuff.

As I've thought a lot about her seasons of job searching, and remembering how down she got, but how she always tried to remind herself about what was true, I also remember she was about making it possible that other people had birthdays to celebrate too.  She wasn't in the armed forces, but the ways she served her country were sacrificial too...she believed in people when they didn't believe in themselves.  She rooted for them and tried to make sure they had every resource they needed and deserved to make it to their next birthday...she told them what they didn't wanna hear if it was what they needed to know...so that they and their loved ones could share more birthdays.  I miss her somethin' fierce.  I cry because I miss her.  I cry because I'm so very thankful for the woman and mother she was.

When you lose something or someone that you love, the important things in life take on new meanings.  This season in life is not my favorite.  It's one of a larger portion of loss than I would have chosen for myself.  The loss of my mom is the biggest loss, but the loss "for now" of a life and work and home and friends and family in South Sudan is huge too.  These losses though, make the sweet gifts...the "gains" in this season, that much sweeter.

It won't surprise you that most of these gains have faces.

photo cred: Louisa Wimmer-Brown
Like these two...who are a whole year more grown up than this now...and on whose actual day of birth I was actually present and accounted for...and one of whom when I got in the car recently said, "Hi Heidi, I've been missing you." (heart melted)

photo cred: Courtney Patch
and this darling who quite readily sits in my lap, waves incessantly to me, AND gives me kisses...

this cutie patootie who requests play dates and with whom I share a general fondness for exploring our surroundings

photo cred: Facebook
and these dudes who discuss with me their favorite animal factoids and let me join in on their hide and seek games

and, well, all their parents are all right too ;)  and there are so many more...

I'm thankful that all these fabulous kids get to have birthdays and that I get to be a part of them, for a season.  I'm desperately sad that I can't share my birthdays with my mom anymore, but I'm thankful for her life spent making sure other people could share theirs.

15 April 2015

a rock cairn

Here's how I imagine surfing theory goes: "when the wave swells...ride it. "Don't FIGHT against a wave swell, but relax and RIDE the wave wherever it takes you.

This girl from the 'Merica interior has never surfed...and if my skiing skills are any indication, I should probably never try...BUT I'm doing my best to glean wisdom from wherever I can in this mess of a season called grief.  Grief is the name of my wave.  No board or "totally rad" lingo involved.  just tears.  Today's swell wasn't a quick slap in the face but rather a slow repetitive build in size and intensity.

The curvatures of the above "panoramic" photo are slightly misleading.  The place where I was standing was the southwestern most point of Africa...the point at which when sailing, you start going more east than south as you come around from the Indian to the Atlantic ocean.

Hope, is my word of the year.  If you think words of the year are corny or confining, tough tootsies - just roll with me, okay?  So, all day I've wondered what the origin of the name of this wildly fantastic place is.  The water is tumultuous, the rocks are impressive, the clouds are fast, the scene is incredible.

Evidently a Portuguese chap by the name of Bartholomew Dias named the place "Cape of Storms" due to his crew/vessel's perilous experiences on the rough and rugged seas around the southernmost tip of Africa.  Later, Portuguese royalty from the comfort of their own thrones, decided that the name "Cape of Good Hope" was more apt due to the benefits of trade routes Dias' discovery opened up for their economies.  It's all about perspective, isn't it!

The weather moves through there like a manic experience...seeming to change every 5 minutes from sunny and clear to stormy with rain (you can see a bit of that in the photo).  Cape of Storms seems more practically realistic to me for that reason.  But even places of storms can be places of hope, huh?  It's a good word lesson for me.

After climbing up some rocks/stairs to look out across the point from a cliff where I took the photo, I stacked 4 rocks on top of each other as a memorial of sorts to my mom; a cairn; an ebenezer of sorts. I couldn't stop thinking of her there.  She loved the water, she loved God's wonderfully wild natural world and the fantastic diversity it holds for us to experience and enjoy and wonder in - and I wanted to call and tell her about it (she always talked about how she loved to travel vicariously through me - wanting to know all about what I was seeing and hearing and smelling and feeling).  But I couldn't.  Actually I won't ever be able to ever again.  First lap of today's grief swell.  In the rain, I quickly stacked 4 rocks, one for each of the 4 of us remaining in our nuclear family.  I said "this one's for you mama" and Bethany and I did the right-arm-to-the-sky-"pentecostal" move she had become fond of in her last few weeks of life, and said "Praise Jesus" (that's what I always imagined she meant with the arm move).  We scurried back down the wet rocks and wooden stairs to sea level where Lesley and Finch were doing the same thing for Camille.

Camille, Lesley's sister died the same day that my mom died.  Lesley and her family are the reason Bethany and I picked up and decided to come to South Africa this week.  To share your days with someone you know is building cairns with rocks and in their heart everyday too, if even for a short while, is a gift.  If you know Lesley, you won't be surprised to know that her cairn for Camille was much prettier than mine...the rocks smoother and flatter...a little flourish of greenery on top...no water droplets on the lens for her photos ;)  Yet another lesson...you can't compare your grief to anyone else's...we all do it, and it's always useless and counterproductive, it feels like.

This is just the "tip of the iceberg" as they say...or "just the cape point of Africa", as it might be in this case...there is so much more to think about and process...me staying home from dinner tonight to write this, is my effort to ride the wave...trying not to fight it but ride it.  It's harder this way, it's more inconvenient for everyone, but it feels honoring of the woman my mom was and the gift of relationship God gave us.  To you! mama.  And to God! for giving you to me...or me to you...or both.

13 March 2015

sailing blind

...yeah.  that's kind of what it feels like.  grief does.  losing your mother does.

it's been two weeks.

so far mostly it feels surreal.  I've lived most of the last 18 years of my life without interacting with my mom on a day to day basis.  it feels like I've just reverted to one of those years.  one of those weeks.

but the first crashing wave hit me hard just now.  I guess surreal felt like a calm sea. productivity.  things to do.   mental check lists.  deep cleaning the upstairs after a few months of domestic neglect.  returning medical supplies on loan.  preparing for the work retreat coming up.  emails to write.  more lists to be made and checked off.

remember, I'm blind in this grief thing, so I don't really know what's coming or when or how.  that's okay.  I've made my peace with that - to the extent that you can when it comes to not knowing.

there was a ripple in the surreal the other night when I thought about the strife and struggle and loss in the lives of people who I love in various parts of the world.  of death.  of conflict.  of lack of honor and respect.  and then the thought came full circle around to me.  to mom.  it was a moment.  a moment of heaviness.  hm.  a moment that passed quicker than I anticipated.  couldn't see it coming or going.

last night there was a swell when I dropped off groceries downstairs where dad was watching 24.  alone.  dad never watches a tv show, at night, alone.  always with mom begging for "just one more" episode.  he explained Jeff was no fun since he falls asleep during everything.  might as well watch by yourself.  chuckle.  well, I guess.  I guess this is something dad does now.  wow.  then my book ended with more death than I expected.  than they expected.  people who loved.  people who lost.  whoah. and again, away it went.  I wasn't sure if I should expect a flood yet...

between the ripple and the swell there was more surreal.  there were more lists and emails and errands.

tonight there was dinner with aunt and uncle.  family.  we want to hear your memories they said.  so we shared.  we laughed.  we paused in silence now and again.  thoughts.  momentary realizations.  there was the drive home.  the collecting of mail. the discussions of plans for the coming week.  up in my room I opened the mail.  a dear family friend who lost his wife had written.  about mom.  about his wife. and about tears. hm. I haven't had as many as I thought.  then there was a poem.  maybe it was his tender care in writing us.  his words carefully chosen and from a place of deep understanding.  maybe it was the words of the poem about tears.  but the stormy wave crashed down.  there they came.  sobs.  sobs of sorrow.  crashing down my cheeks.  I miss my mama.  I've lost her to heaven and she's not coming back.

I didn't see the storm coming. this expedition is blind.  remember.  there were no sailing lessons this time out.

I went and sat with my dad.  He feels the waves.  We sail blind, but we are not alone.

28 January 2015


it's late and I'm tired and I'll probably regret this in the morning, but I'm realizing that if I don't write in the moment, it won't get written...and I feel really strongly, tonight, that this needs to be written.

I came home from praying with "my people"...my small group from church that gathers weekly to pray for each other, and I opened Facebook on my phone, which at 9:30pm, is usually a mistake.  Tonight, however, was different.  Some of the things we had prayed about together were really hard, really heavy...involving a lot of pain/isolation/division/disease/violence that is our world these days...the fact that hope is often hard to see.

Then, on "the Facebook," I watched this (posted in my feed by Nicholas Kristof, a NYTimes journalist who I respect).

Now.  Let me get a few things out of the way: dramatic video production designed to invoke emotion? yes.  any idea if this story is legit? no.  Do I think Patrick lived everyday prior to beginning to learn sign language without a genuine smile on his face like you're meant to believe in the video? no.  Does it bother me that the camera gets all up in this boy's face who clearly wishes it wouldn't? YES! (He can't hear but for goodness sakes, he can SEE!)  Is this clip even more emotive for me having lived in Uganda (and in neighboring South Sudan which visually looks and likely culturally is much more similar to Patrick's village than the part of Uganda where I lived)? yes.  BUT, all that said, this story still has immense power.

Have you ever had a life experience that distances you from those around you?  That makes you feel alone?  That separates you from community?

Do you know anyone who has a disabling condition of any kind?  Who feels isolated because of it for whatever reason?  Who you long for a community of genuinely common ground for?

Have you ever been overwhelmed by the hurt that we cause each other as humans?  Have you ever been overwhelmed by the violence/disrespect around the world?  In your own community?  Have you ever wondered if we as a modern day society will ever recover from the hurt we cause each other?  Have you ever struggled to see the hope in a situation?

Have you ever hoped to see people empowered to serve a community of people like them in a life-giving way - both for them and their community?

Have you ever experienced a moment of breakthrough in someone's life?  Have you ever had the honor of watching a person come alive in a way they haven't before?  Have you ever had the privilege  of catching a glimpse of a downcast person smiling?  Of a sick child made well?  Of an outcast finding a unique role?  Of someone finding someone else who gets it?

It's utterly amazing.  Jaw dropping.  Tear jerking.  Breath taking.  Awe inspiring.  Flabbergasting.  absolutely incredible.  These, my people, are powerful moments in life.  Moments which need to be recognized.  Moments which need celebrated.  Moments which have the power to unite all of us in the desire for more like them.

These stories, like Patrick's are happening everyday, all over the world.  They're just as real as the war torn, pain-filled, heart wrenchingly sad stories we hear...and the reality is, they're often intertwined with such pain...because it seems to me that it's true when they say that the most beautiful things come from the most painful...it's the pain that *makes* them beautiful.

There are tears streaming down my face as I sit writing...so much of this that I long for in my mom's story...so much of this that I long for in communities I've had the honor and privilege of calling home in Uganda and South Sudan...so much of this that I miss about daily life in those places...so much that I love about how wonderfully powerful smiles can be.

27 December 2014

the pain and comfort of small

holiday movie season is the best.

they wait and release the year's best movies all at once...which, in my logical, practical mind is not the best of ideas...what are we to do the rest of the year?! best to spread the enjoyment out evenly...fairly...but in my childlike heart it is an extension of the extravagance of Christmas.  Call me gluttonous, but, I love it.

Yesterday it was the third and last installation of the Tolkien fantasy, The Hobbit.  Today the historical biopic The Imitation Game.  Not much in common with these two, but both poignant and wonderful and awful in their own ways.  
There is one poignancy in common though...one which I was not at all expecting...the lesson of appreciating/acknowledging the reality of our small-cog-ness in the big-wheel-world.

Bilbo and the code breakers both need reminded (or perhaps informed), that they are small pieces of a much larger puzzle...that they are not the only, and more importantly not the main, characters in their life adventures/discoveries/events...it is all so much more complex than their own experience of a thing...so much more to be taken into consideration...

I'm struck.  Not sure why.  But as I stop to consider the possibilities, one comes to mind on this day in particular.

I'm just a small cog, in a big wheel world, and I am SO VERY thankful.  In Tolkien's Hobbit, Bilbo's response to Gandalf's instruction on this topic is "Thank goodness!" which I echo emphatically.

Today was my first day off.  As of late I have felt the weight of the last year in new ways.  For lots of reasons, most of which I don't really understand completely, I need a break.  And that's really really really really hard for me to say.  Again, it's hard for lots of reasons I don't completely understand, but I know enough to know I need it.  And in the end, I know enough to know that I'm a small cog in a very big wheel world, and saying "I need a break" is my way of echoing Bilbo's "Thank goodness!"  It's my way of honoring God's sovereignty and power and control and relinquishing my own.  God d*@& it, it's hard.

It's difficult to write in this type of forum about this stage of my life.  It's hard to honor my mom's life and privacy while my life is so tightly woven with hers on a daily basis.  But this need for a break, the excruciatingly painful process of admitting that to myself and even more painfully to others, is my story, it's not my mom's...well, but that's not actually true, is it?  That's Gandalf's whole point...that's what Alan Turing and his team needed to learn before they could be of real service to their country...and it was excruciating.  It is my story, it's my pride being broken, my idols crashing down, but it's mom's story as well.  It affects her, it affects our whole household, and our community...it's our story.  Well, actually, it's HIS story. 

"Thank goodness!"


PS - I feel like it's dishonest to stop there when as my mind carries this thought on, I realize the irony that the awful, tragic charging, sentencing, "treatment" and death of Alan Turning and thousands of other gay people in Germany and likely elsewhere as well, because of their sexuality, was and still is probably argued "legitimate" with the same reasoning...that they are "just small cogs in a big wheel of a world"...but somehow I believe that while it is wonderful that we are but small cogs, we are wonderful small cogs and the loss of/injustice done to any one of us is done to ALL of us...it's HIS story remember? we are ALL part of the picture.

19 June 2014

jumping fountains

I drove by a scene much like this one this evening.  Kids running around in a jumping fountain...shoots of water squirting up from the ground at seemingly random intervals and in seemingly random locations.

Grief is a lot like these fountains.  I never quite know where or when it's gonna pop up...where or when it's going to gush out.  Last night at small group was one of those places and times.   I was asking the group to pray for the Muslim world in it's current state of what seems a bit like chaos from this vantage point.  I'm reading Malala's story, and my heart strings are tugged by the realities that have been her life, yes, but I don't usually weep when my heart strings are tugged by books I'm reading or articles I read online.  I think that was just the release of the flood gates.  My parents left town on tuesday for a few weeks of rest and relaxation on the west coast.  I think with their departure, my heart relaxed a bit, and so tugs on it's strings made bigger ripples than usual...to mix about 7 metaphors ;)

The group lovingly asked what was going on, as the tears continued to stream down my face as others continued to share and request prayer, etc.  I shrugged my shoulders.  I had no idea.  I've talked and thought about it since and I think it's just how grief works.  I've heard others say this is just how it is - it hits you when it hits you.  Unlike the jumping fountains though, grief does not seem to elicit the shrieks of joy that seem common in the children running around getting soaking wet, whether they were dressed for the occasion or not ;)  Alas.

There's this thing among Christians that we don't talk about.  Well, we do talk about it, but it's all in the name of spiritual growth and edification.  We talk about what "grieving well" looks like, what "suffering well" looks like.  Missionaries talk about "healthy cultural acquisition" or "good language learning technique" or "good goodbyes."  So a gold standard is set - for better or worse.  For better: they provide us a guide along the way as wisdom from those who have gone before.  For worse: they just allow us to judge one another - measuring each other against these standards.  Same with grief and suffering.  I know, because I've done it to other people.  Sizing up their emotional and spiritual life from what I perceive on the outside.  Now, I'm wishing for more grace that I've in times past given to others.  When it comes to grief,  I've decided I only know how to process feelings I'm experiencing.  It has done me no good to try to talk about things I think I should feel or think others think I should feel.  It does, on the other hand, a world of good to go get ice cream with a couple friends after I fall apart and try to figure out where that was coming from and what it was really about, and reflect on whether I'm doing what I can to engage my emotions from day to day in a healthy way.

People make off handed comments about how they think our family is or is not dealing with the current realities of mom's illness and this season of life.  Maybe you think we are putting on "happy faces" too often - which means you think there is a way our faces should look instead. Maybe you think I should cry more - maybe you think the jumping fountain effect is just a because I'm suppressing all my emotions and just need to "deal with them" more...or better.  Maybe you think when I'm at a party, I should rise to the occasion and not be so glum - it's not about me after all. The thing is, my grief seems to know no schedule or social norms, and neither does this terminal illness.  All I can say is that I think I'm not alone in the jumping fountains.