When it’s time.

It was the day that the clouds ran across the sky like a river, and somehow my kids knew. 

You can’t hide things like that from children. Not even the quiet nuances enfolded into whispered conversations where words like “ventilator” and “not long,”  are tossed back and forth, crushing the people on both ends of the line. Both the ones that have to say it, and the ones who hear it for the first time.

The same people who look at the sky after they hang up the phone, and wonder why today is the day, when the sun is shining through the way it is, because it wasn’t supposed to be today.

Somehow, kids know that you are totally different when you hang up the phone. 

You’re just thankful that they can’t see your weary face up in the front seat from where they sit in the back, and you are just as thankful that they would rather look out the window at the passing scenery then at your sagging, heartbroken eyes. 

But then they ask you how God made everything that we see rolling past our car windows, and you know that somehow, they instinctively and unknowingly realized that today is the day that we needed to talk about such things. To say them out loud to each other and to ourselves.

Today we need segment our thoughts, talk about it how we each see it so that we can piece it all together to really understand. We needed to feel the pain that comes from wondering why the dried sunflowers rustling against the hot wind out in the fields had to die.

I had to tell them that everything fades, even us, because it’s what’s supposed to happen.

But God? He spoke and simply breathed everything into being with one word because He could because that’s just what He does. We are the creation, and we could only breathe life in to our newly dust-formed lungs, and sputter out that first aching breath when He told us that it was time to rise.

I told them how we are all only a few stunted breaths away from dying, but we were surely only ever a word spoken away from existing. How the breathing is what happens to us on a molecular level, but we really didn’t start living until the word was spoken, and the soul appeared. And the soul, clever, wonderful thing that it is, is what rises by the command of the word when the body fades away back to the dust.

And now, your face is in my mind as always, as thoughts turn over one right after the other, as the clouds in the sky run together like a celestial white river against a stark blue backdrop and pool somewhere just over the horizon.

Then I wonder where you go when you close your eyes forever.

I’ve always marveled at sepia toned photographs of loved ones who have passed hanging in wallpapered hallways. I run my fingers over them, smudge their glass corners, straighten them against the flowered wall. Ponder long and hard the smiling faces and the eyes that have closed forever, and I wonder where they went.

And if they knew.

I wonder if my photos, one day, will look old and worn like these do, or if mine will have the luxury of having an Instagram filter veneer, but does that really even matter?

We are the flowers, and the flowers fade. And then, they’re gone. But that’s what flowers are supposed to do. But what’s left of us is actually all of us, and all we need, and we breathe again on the other side of eternity, where the clouds pool just beyond the horizon. And our eyes open again for the first time for the last time, and we see with such clarity the way it’s supposed to be. Even better than all of those times that heartbreak caused us to wonder why and broke and scattered us into a million pieces as we tried to gather ourselves back up to keep going. It’s the things that cannot be shaken that remain, and when that is all that remains, we will have eyes to see, when we have finally been fully gathered.

Only now, you’re gathered one last time, for the rest of time. 

And now in my mind I hear the footsteps of a dozen grand children, the voices of four daughters who loved you. A wife who made your meals just the way you wanted them, who always held you together when you probably didn’t even realize it with the flick of her cane and a quick knowing glance from behind her glasses.

I hear all of the conversations in joyful spurts around the Thanksgiving table with the white lace table cloth, and the perfect dressing and gravy. I remember all of the goodbyes on Christmas nights from tired children with red cheeks, their innocent ‘thank you’s’ for their presents, completely high off of Christmas lights and the fudge that was always hidden in the secret cookie tin. 

And the sincere pledges shouted into the cold air before the car doors closed that we would all call when we had arrived home safely.

It’s burned into my mind forever, the both of you, standing in the drive way. Two of you as one, waving off the people who make up the negative space around you. And it’s just as much the negative space around someone that creates a life and lets people know that we were here to begin with, we really were. We were more than just the photographs and the eyes that are now closed. We are more than the pine box, the final breath. 

How lucky I was to have almost thirty Christmases like that. How sad I am that it will never, ever be the same again. That none of us will. How amazing it was that even when I was thirty, my grandpa would slip me a twenty on the way out the door, his gentle cologne wafting into my nose, and admonish me with a smile and a nod to take care of my mother.

I always said that I would.

And I promise that I always will. 

 

 

 

 

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When you’re just not sure

As a blogger, if I would even dare officially consider myself one, I guess my job is to share some of the stuff that’s going on in my own life. 

I’m supposed to mine my own experiences, and turn them into something transcendent or relatable for someone else, in the hopes that maybe it will resonate with them. 

In the hopes that they can say, “me too.”

Then I read this. And I am still trying to remove the barbs that it thrust into me. 

Is what I do pointless? Is it stupid, or meaningless? It is useless?

I try to remind myself all of the time that I write for myself. And that hopefully, in doing so, some of what I say might reach someone. Someone who wants to laugh. Someone who wants to feel like they aren’t the only one. Or maybe, someone who just can’t even anymore. 

For nearly twelve years, my father has been sick. He has hepatitis c. His liver began to experience cirrhosis years ago, but the condition came to a head in 2005. Funny thing is, that word has fluttered out of my mouth at times in a high frequency over the last twelves years, but I still had to double check the spelling on it. For a long time, it was the unseen enemy, threatening everything.

He had a liver transplant in 2008. It was the weekend of my birthday. I was a new teller at a local community bank, working the second lane in the drive thru when I got the phone call from my mother.

I remember the swish of my khaki pants and how I started to cry when my mother told me that the hospital had a liver for my father as I hurriedly went and hid in the supply closet in an effort to contain myself. My joy. And my tears.

He wasn’t going to die. So many times, we thought he was going to, but now he definitely wasn’t. At least, if he could make it through the next few weeks.  

“It’s over,” I thought. 

Things are going to go back to normal. We celebrated all weekend, both my birthday and, seemingly, his day for rebirth. His second chance. I stole him a spoon from IHOP so that he would always have a trinket to remember such an occasion. 

I have no idea where that spoon is now. And the ghosts of a family broken who thought that it was over linger. 

That was eight years ago. Since then, addiction, continued and prolonged sickness, and anger have shattered my family into something unrecognizable. Something that seems unredeemable.

It’s all too much to write about for now. Maybe one day.

It’s hard enough to be someone’s caregiver, or to see someone you love struggle with sickness and poor health. But then when someone asks you how things are going and the truth is that not only is someone severely ill, but they’re also a broken person, you stop knowing how to answer the question. Because you don’t know where to start, and because they are also surrounded by broken people who have no idea how to handle all of this. 

I always thought that when your life was going to be shattered, it didn’t take years. And every time I have thought that this was it, this is rock bottom and it can’t possibly get any scarier or any worse, I have been so, so wrong.

I’m probably wrong now even. There is always a way for the bottom to drop out further.

We take our own autonomy for granted so easily. It’s without question that air will flow into our lungs without much effort when we take a breath. That our bones and skin can handle an innocuous stumble, or brushing against the corner of the counter top without injury. 

There are so many things that I take for granted, and yet I have watched someone lose pieces of themselves, year after year. 

Every time I can’t get over what it must be like to lose every part of your physical self, I feel the truth rush to me: we are more than these bodies. 

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

 

And every time you come to a portion of the bridge that has given way, and you think you cannot pass, is when you have to trust more than any other time. 

It becomes the oxygen you need, the strength to your bones, the binding on your wounds. 

It sounds like magic. It sounds so easy. It isn’t easy. 

Sometimes, when I think that things are the worst that they have ever been, and I start looking upward for some sort of sign that I am doing this whole “faith” thing right, I always am puzzled. Is this what it feels like to trust?

This emptiness? Because that is all that I feel. 

Or is it in the empty places that faith fills in? Are we supposed to trust the emptying and the wounds?  

Our bodies may be decaying or unsubstantial, but on the inside, when troubles assail the waters we are supposed to sail on, that we are supposed to walk on in faith, it is the condition of our hearts that the Lord is secretly working to His glory. 

In the emptying, when we realize that we cannot trust in the way that things are, we learn the way that they are supposed to be. When faith fills the darkest places of us that have been emptied of ourselves, we taste the way that it is supposed to be. 

We are more than these bodies. And so, our hope should be in something greater. 

It sounds so easy. So, so easy. But when you sit in the wooden pews at church, and you see the hands of the saints around you raised in worship, but you don’t really know what you’re doing there anywhere?

That’s right where God wants you. 

He wants you to know that you’ve been doing it wrong all this time. 

And even as life ticks by, and we think that we are learning, that we are growing, that we are different than the person we were a year ago, we come to yet another bedrock of truth. Where we find out just how much we really never knew to begin with. 

I’m not sure about any of this, really.

But the God in heaven is the one who scatters, and the one who draws near. 

And He will surely not allow us to be sown without allowing for us to collected.

Just sometimes, that takes time. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

America, America

I am afraid. 

A city is burning, and I am afraid. 

Earlier, my friend put it perfectly. If you didn’t know that those images streaming through our televisions and news-feeds were of American streets before you saw them, you might not know that they were at all. This doesn’t look like our country.  

And that just hurts. 

What are we doing to ourselves?

The earth under Nepal quaked and opened up, and cities tumbled and people DIED. Thousands of people are GONE. 

And yet, we are still here, and I can sit in the doctor’s office on a sunny, breezy afternoon and fill out a healthcare form and check “no” for every discernible disability, disease, condition and injury, because, thank you God, I can. 

We are still here and we HATE each other and we bat our eyes at the blessings that we have and we just don’t care. None of us do.

And we are destroying ourselves. 

Not just with our hands. With ours words. 

Our enemies need not raise their voices or their hands, we are sure to do it to ourselves. 

Because nobody has the right answer, only each of us thinks they have the right answer, and if only everybody would just listen to US then this world would be better, this mess would be undone. Right?

That’s the problem. Nobody ever claims to see this all coming, and they can sit in their homes, behind their walls in the days after and tell you that they know how to fix it all and pretend that they want to listen to what everyone else has to say.

But by the time people are spilling out into the streets and setting things on fire, and throwing bricks at other people and breaking glass, it’s too late. 

I went to bed last night when I could finally peel my eyes away from my phone and all of the images of things on fire and people looking angry, and I woke up this morning, I heard this voice ring out loud and clear with the rising sun,

“Dawn is here, now. Are you going to be a part of the problem, or a part of the solution.”

I know not all of you are into the whole, “christian, God thing.”

But I sat in my pew on Sunday and our pastor pounded it into us about how GOD IS NOT A BYSTANDAER WHEN WALLS FALL DOWN, AND BUILDINGS BURN AND THERE IS SUFFERING AND CHAOS. AND WE ARE NOT HELPLESS AND WE ARE NOT CALLED TO FEAR.

What followed could have been an entire sermon devoted to how we do this to ourselves and can only blame ourselves, and yet we were reminded that:

GOD IS NOT SURPRISED. 

He is active. He is ALIVE.

And we are CALLED. We are ordained. We are sent forth. 

We are not lights under a bushel, hidden from all prying eyes. We should not shield ourselves behind our walls and pretend that in the world we know, things like this don’t happen to people like us.

I might have been inclined to automatically believe that when the midwest was on fire last year, but now that it’s an hour away, it’s too real and too close to ignore any longer. 

We are to burn brightly in this world, and those are really going to be the fires that are brighter than a burning city. 

Fear and confusion and hate and anger make us wrap ourselves up into a tight, comfortable coil, where we can only see darkness. We are consumed with ourselves and BY ourselves. We are the thing that can destroy ourselves.

Hope is really the thing that breaks you and shatters you into a million pieces. Pieces that plant in the ground and grow and break through the earth into something NEW. 

We need something new.

We need hope. 

God almighty, we have hope. 

Earth has no sorrow

That heaven can’t heal. 

I know that some of you don’t do the “God thing,” and I get it. But now is assuredly the time to take our eyes off of ourselves and to place them on something greater. To look to heaven and realize that we are all together. That we are all one. 

It’s time to place our eyes on something greater, on The One who can heal all things and make beautiful things out of the dust. 

He can make beautiful things out of us. 

Martin Luther King: 

“Go out this morning. Love yourself, and that means rational and healthy self-interest. You are commanded to do that. That’s the length of life. Then follow that: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. You are commanded to do that. That’s the breadth of life. And I’m going to take my seat now by letting you know that there’s a first and even greater commandment: “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy strength.” I think the psychologist would just say with all thy personality. And when you do that, you’ve got the breadth of life.

And when you get all three of these together, you can walk and never get weary. You can look up and see the morning stars singing together, and the sons of God shouting for joy. When you get all of these working together in your very life, judgement will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.

When you get all the three of these together, the lamb will lie down with the lion.

When you get all three of these together, you look up and every valley will be exalted, and every hill and mountain will be made low; the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh will see it together.

When you get all three of these working together, you will do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.

When you get all three of these together, you will recognize that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth.