Category Archives: grief

the song still sings . . .

a flame for Newtown . . . a song still sings

My daughter could barely get through the final paragraph. Her tears prevented her progress, her heart tenderly wrapped around and invested in the story of the faithful saint, Corrie ten Boom. Corrie finished her earthly chapter on her ninety-first birthday, only to begin her next one—her everlasting witness. It’s still breathing, still shaping hearts and defining souls. Still sowing kingdom seeds. Still putting notes to the musical scores of our faith, even twenty-nine years beyond her peaceful, home-going.

In thinking about Corrie and in absorbing the tremendous and present pain in our world, I am reminded of a line I spoke to a group of cancer survivors not long ago. It has staying power; at least it’s stayed with me. Why? Because it’s connected to a staying truth:

Being a survivor isn’t solely about defeating the disease. Perhaps, greater still, being a survivor is about defeating the silence that surrounds the disease.

Corrie wasn’t a cancer survivor. She was, however, a Holocaust survivor and was able to defeat the silence surrounding her captivity. She didn’t allow the enemy to confine her voice after her physical chains fell to the ground. Instead, she mined the treasures of her faith and her God throughout the course of her imprisonment and beyond. In doing so, she was never really held captive. In many ways, her chains freed her to be a greater witness, a brighter light, a harbinger of the good Gospel that will always sing and that can’t ever be silenced by the harshest of evils in this world. God’s Word cannot be chained. And today, Corrie’s song lives on in the heart of a ten-year-old girl and her forty-six-year-old mom because of the staying power of God’s eternal song.

Two thousand years ago, a soul-defining cry was heard in Bethlehem’s silent night. Many would take note of the witness; many would attempt to hush the melody. Not a lot has changed in 2000 years. Bethlehem still sings its song. Some will hear it; some will refuse the chorus. Regardless of our responses, whether acceptance or rejection, the music continues. God’s still scoring his masterpiece, and because of his amazing grace, our voices are added to the refrain.

Being a soul-survivor isn’t solely about defeating the evil in this world. Perhaps, greater still, being a soul-survivor is about defeating the silence that surrounds the evil.

I’ve sung it before; I’ll sing it again.

Live forward, ye pilgrims on the road of faith! Fight forward, ye warriors of Christendom! Sing forward, ye heralds of the Gospel! Our best days are ahead of us. As always . . .

Peace for the journey,

PS: The winner of the Starbuck’s gift card and one of my books is Karin Ripp. Karin, please send me your snail mail via my contact form and your choice of book. I’ll have this out to you this week; hopefully, you’ll receive it in time for Christmas.

In the Olive Press with Jesus {part seven: Doing Grief}

In the Olive Press with Jesus {part seven: Doing Grief}

It’s been two months since she died… their mom, my friend (you can read about it here). This past week, my husband and I made the six-hour round trip to their home to share with them in their sorrow. To do grief. To remember her and to allow that remembrance to touch us deeply where it hurts.

Doing grief. It wasn’t easy; grief never is. I don’t suppose I’ve ever really witnessed this kind of sorrow… in many ways unfamiliar territory for me. Funeral grief—the kind of grief that packs in and around the initial parting of a loved one—has been my common experience. Grief that comes two months later? Well, that kind of grief is easier to pack away for those of us who sit on the outside of its unwrapping. We aren’t privy to this kind of gut-wrenching grief unless we are the direct recipients of its painful prod. But just because we don’t feel the sorrow, see the sorrow, hold the sorrow as profoundly as those who’ve lost someone close, doesn’t mean that sorrow no longer exists.

They feel it. They see it. They hold it. They grieve deeply behind hidden doors, behind expectations, behind forced smiles, trying desperately to fit into a world that’s moving on, despite the fact that grief isn’t in any hurry to leave. And that, friends, is an added burden to a grieving soul. Grief cannot live outside the boundaries of human existence. Grief cannot separate itself from common conversation and daily deliberations. When grief moves into a heart, grief stays. Certainly, over time, grief changes, but I’m not convinced it ever really leaves. What I am convinced of is the need to allow grief room enough, time enough, and respect enough to breathe—to work itself into and out of our hearts as it comes.

We must acknowledge it, whether a deeply felt, personal grief or the deep grief of a friend. We mustn’t clutter it, stuff it, or bury it. We simply and profoundly need to let it breathe and then to do the seemingly impossible—breathe alongside it. Not underestimate or overestimate what it is, but to let what “is”… just be.

This is our grieving season, friends … a lengthy round trip to Calvary and back where we come alongside God’s grief to feel it, see it, and hold it. Just for awhile. Just long enough for it to breathe strong remembrance into our souls. We weren’t there at the funeral some 2000 years ago; we’ve only heard stories about it. But here we are today, walking into that story, standing heart-to-heart with the One who wrote that story, and receiving its painful truth as our portion. His grief belongs to us; it is now part of our stories forever forward.

There’s no room for cluttering, stuffing, and burying the truth of Christ’s cross… not for those of us who call ourselves by his name. Easter pilgrims are those who willingly carry the suffering cross for self and for others, knowing it will hurt… greater still, knowing it will consecrate our hearts for a deeper identification with Jesus. The cross is what he came to do; in doing so, he and the world around him, “did grief” … continues to do grief. Why should we do any less?

Do better for Jesus this week; do better for those you love. Come alongside them to breathe with them. In doing so, you give them Easter’s breath … Easter’s best. As always…

Peace for the Journey,
post signature

winter comes…

I pulled my jacket tighter around me while out for a walk this afternoon.

It’s cold outside. Last week, it was seventy degrees. Today? Somewhere in the upper 40’s. Not too bad if the wind wasn’t blowing, but it was. I thought I was adequately prepared, but I wasn’t. And so, I pulled my jacket tighter around me, dug my hands a little deeper into my pockets, and cursed the winter for catching me by surprise.

As it goes with the weather, so it goes with my heart.

It’s cold inside. The wind is blowing, and I am not adequately prepared for winter’s arrival.

Death has reared its ugly witness… again, claiming the earthly tenure of my precious friend, Juliana. She had a heart transplant three weeks ago. On Tuesday, she had a massive stroke. On Wednesday, she died, and none of us were prepared for her departure.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. She was supposed to live long enough to raise her five-year-old twin sons and to grow old with her beloved, Patrick. Instead she went home to Jesus, and she took a part of our hearts with her. We are the ones in mourning, not her. We are the ones left behind to hold and to manage an eternal ache that shouts, “This should not be; not yet.”

To love is a great thing. To grieve, a direct reflection of that love. I just wish that love didn’t have to hurt so much. I just wish that I could take the pain away for all of us. I just wish that God would peel back the heavens long enough for us to see Juliana there, dancing with her infant daughter, knowing that one day soon, their steps will be ours. Their joy, ours. Their peace, ours. Their forever, ours.

But God keeps a few secrets… keeps the heavens hidden because he knows that should we catch a glimpse of glory, we would no longer need our lives here. We’d only want to be there, with Him. With her. With all the other saints gathered together around the throne. A peek into glory wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the soul cravings within.

To see that and then to stay here? Well, I don’t think we’d ever recover.

And so, we live with the mystery. We pull our jackets tighter around us and do our best to block our hearts from the howling wind. We curse the winter for catching us by surprise. And we think about home. It’s warmth. It’s shelter. It’s protection. About how long it will take us to get there. About how many more deliberate steps of faith will be required of us before we see the welcome mat and the faces of loved ones who are glad to see that we’ve made it home safely.

Yes, it’s cold today. Winter has paid us a visit. I can’t see Spring. I can only imagine it. It won’t be long in coming, but for now, right now, I pull my jacket tighter around me and keep walking forward. I cast my eyes to the horizon, searching for any signs of home. And I look down at my bracelet, and I read those two words that I’ve promised to remember for 2012.

Movement wins.

And I keep moving, even on a winter day.

May God keep us all focused forward and forever tethered to our forever. And may he grant each one of us enough hope, comfort, certainty, and peace for the journey ahead.


when a friend crosses to Canaan ahead of you…

Judith made it home to Jesus on Thanksgiving Day. I’ve been living with her absence since then. Four days is hardly enough time to displace my grief. I don’t have a place to put my grief, not really. I can’t send a casserole to the West Coast… can’t stop by the family living room to offer my condolences. I wouldn’t even recognize her family members if I saw one of them on the street. I’ve never met any of them face-to-face. Not even her—my Judith friend. Our lives didn’t connect the regular way. Our lives connected here … in this place, this space that I have reserved for the public sharing of thoughts. A domain named “Peace for the Journey.” A home for my words and the birthplace of some rich, kindred friendships.

Judith was one of the first of you, extending our relationship beyond customary comments to include nearly four years’ worth of phone conversations, e-mails, snail mails, all kinds of communication that move a friendship past common courtesy. In doing so, I’ve experienced one of the truest, most honest and encouraging relationships of my lifetime. Judith has been my mentor, my cancer sister, my sounding board, my “middle-of-the-night” friend who listened to me and understood me when others couldn’t. She was the second person I called after receiving my diagnosis and almost always the first person I called when I was hunkered down in the middle of my pain. These last years with Judith have strengthened my heart and my faith in a way that furthers the cause of Jesus Christ.

Judith sometimes worried about her doing enough for the kingdom. She wanted to be used by God but often didn’t recognize the weightiness of her witness to others. Who I am today, in part, is a direct reflection of the time that Judith Guerino invested in me. She was never too busy, too sick, too tired, or too perfect to take me on. She was just willing, and that willingness, friends, is an extraordinary gift to receive. I recognized its worthiness early on in our friendship, and I cherished each moment that I was able to share with my beloved friend. One of those moments came six weeks prior to Thanksgiving.

While out for an afternoon walk, I felt strongly that I should try and call Judith. She’d been in and out of the hospital, not able to take calls most days, so I was uncertain about her availability to speak with me. One of our great concerns for each other (especially during our sick days) was not to wear one another out with conversation. We made a deal. If we couldn’t talk (for whatever reason), we wouldn’t answer the phone, and we wouldn’t be mad about it … we’d just understand.

Six weeks ago was not one of those moments. Instead, six weeks ago hosted a God-ordained moment for both of us.

“Judith, if this needs to be our good-bye, then let’s do it right. Let’s say everything we need to say, and let’s do so with great clarity. This could be our hand-holding, bedside release.”

And so it was. Our final conversation. We talked for over an hour … laughed, cried, prayed, and tenderly released one another to the roads in front of us. We knew where hers was heading, and while it seemed that my road was taking a detour or two that would eventually catch up with hers, I couldn’t escape the fact that no matter the path in front of both of us, we would stay connected because of our kinship in Jesus Christ.

“Wherever I go, Judith, from this point forward, you’ll be with me. I’ll keep your story as a part of my own. I’ll wear this mantle you have given me and place it on the shoulders of other cancer patients who need the love and encouragement of a friend like you. I will do so in honor of you. I’ll carry it for both of us.”

It’s not easy to speak words like these … not easy to articulate the inevitabilities of our up-and-coming departures, but when it happens, it’s a sacred gift to those who are standing at the portal of heaven and to those who are left behind to wonder, to imagine, to believe and to grieve. Judith may have crossed the Jordan River into Canaan ahead of me, but she didn’t do so without me. She carried my story with her and, in return, she left her story with me. This is the unity we share as believers in Jesus Christ—the eternal thread that links us together and that pulls our heartstrings forward in faith.

We don’t enter into the presence of Jesus Christ without the present witness of others. Those we love and those who have loved us, well, I believe they’re part of the cargo that we’ll carry with us into our forevers. When our crossing-over day comes and we arrive on the shores of Canaan, not only will we step forward into the arms of our Father, but also the testimony of a great many heart-investors will step with us. It’s just how it works, friends, this investing of love. Eternal love rooted in Christ’s love plants seeds, and all eternal seeds harvest hugely for the kingdom.

It matters what we do here, how we love here. How we give and share God here. And while we aren’t privy to the arrival of others when they finally meet our Father face-to-face, wouldn’t it be wonderful to know that a part of us arrives there with them as a lasting witness to our willingness to love on the front side of heaven?

Yes, Judith went home to Jesus on Thanksgiving Day. Part of me did as well, friends, and I cannot tell you the joy this brings to my sadness—knowing that as she steps in glory, so do I. A little bit of my faith, a little bit of my heart is already dancing in heaven, alongside my kindred friend. Oh that I… that we would take each step, live each day, love this way with eternity in mind!

Our stories belong to one another, and I can’t think of a finer group of people I’d rather carry with me into Canaan when my crossing-over day arrives. Until then, let’s keep planting God’s eternal seed into the hearts of those we love, and let us celebrate the thread that binds us all together as one–Jesus Christ.

Let’s do it right … say everything we need to say and do so with God’s great clarity while today is still today. It’s the best we can do. I love you each one.

Peace for the journey,

PS: To read the guest post that Judith wrote for me last summer, click on this link.

on landing safely home…

This is an important post for me.
I want to go somewhere with my thoughts—a “place” I’ve been dwelling at in recent days. I don’t think I’m alone in my dwelling, for I believe that there are many of us who’ve pitched our tents a time or two or ten at this address, especially following a season of trauma. It doesn’t mean I want to live here forever, and I suppose there are a few of you who quietly wish that I’d just get on with it—”it” being the rest of my life. But I can’t; nor should I. Nor should any of you because in doing so—in prematurely getting on with it—we run the risk of short-changing the trajectory that will safely and most healthily land us at the threshold of our “next.”
Let me explain.
A couple of nights ago, my husband and I finished watching the HBO miniseries The Pacific. It was grizzly and gruesome and full of a grittiness that exacted a toll on my senses… my thoughts as well. Still and yet, the story was compelling enough to keep me engaged (and fast-forwarding on several occasions). In addition, I wanted to spend some couch time with my husband. He’s a history buff who holds a special interest in wartime eras. Accordingly, he was all about his Christmas gift (thanks boys for thinking of it), and because I’m all about him we spent several evenings bonding together with the men of the 1st Marine Division at Guadalcanal, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima.
There’s so much I could tell you about the movie, so many moments when I felt as if I were there, tasting the torment and feeling the pulse of the Marines who bravely manned their stations and, even more so, bravely pushed forward when the orders were given. You’d expect that… that I would write about their bravery and about their pushing through, but those are neither the scenes nor the sentiment that captured me most fully. Certainly they are noteworthy. Those kinds of victories are the makings of good headlines, best-selling books, ticker-tape parades, and made-for-television movies. Without the bravery of countless armed forces, which undoubtedly served as a pre-cursor to certain triumph, we’d have far less of these moments to chronicle with our token remembrance. Victories are important, but not all of them are won on the battlefield. Some of them are won in lesser places—the silent fields that surround a heart and life once the swords have found their scabbards and the guns their holstered display.
Some victories arrive after the obvious. Some emerge on the heels of a battle quietly fought on the front lines of a return home—a safe landing at a crossroads in a cornfield where the only ammunition in sight is the manure-laden fields begging a healthy harvest in due season. That is the sentiment from The Pacific that captured my heart on the final evening of our watching… the “coming home” sentiment and all that must have meant for the Marines who made it home and who were willing to do the hard thing of living… beyond the Pacific.
Scene after scene, I witnessed the “dropping off” of these men and women, back into the normalcy of what used to be. Some returning to fanfare. Some returning to anonymity. All returning with renewed perspective about their lives and the questions that came alongside to challenge their former safe parameters and sterile thinking. All of them wanting life as usual. Most of them realizing that life as usual could never be again. Instead, life as usual was infiltrated by scalded memories and harsh woundings that refused amputation from their thinking. Thus, a new battle for home turf began within the Marine’s soul with little or no support from a country that proudly displayed its flag, bought its war bonds, and wrote its memoirs.
We left them alone to fight those unseen battles, to deal with their silent pains, while bravely and arrogantly shouting our get on with it. Suck it up. Deal with it. Man up. That’s life. Move on or get left behind.
Easy words to speak; harder words to receive. All quick fixes to the problem of pain. A boorish and rude interruption into the process of healing. Still and yet, words that were often spoken when silence gripped a conversation… when answers weren’t so obvious and when the one offering up solutions wasn’t comfortable with suffering’s significance. Instead of lending grace and time and community to a returning Marine, many were quick to wrap up their comforting with cards and calls and casseroles and deem it enough for the healing.
It wasn’t enough back then; it isn’t enough right now.
And lest you think I’m talking solely about the honorable men and women that serve in our Armed Forces, you’ve missed the bigger picture. For all of us, every last one of us, have stood on the battlefield at one time or another in our lives. We’ve all fought hard for victories that bloodied and bruised us along the way. We all boast the wounding and scars of the sacred ground we’ve fought to preserve… the hallowed hill we’ve climbed to take. And when the battle is through, when the victory seemingly won, we, like the Marines of The Pacific get dropped on in our cornfields… left at our train stations and commissioned with the responsibility of getting on with it.
And somewhere in between the dropping off and getting on with it, there resides a gap. A huge gap. Rows and rows of planted seed that requires time and tending before moving forward with harvest. To quickly step over it is to short change the trajectory that will safely and most healthily land us at the threshold of our “next.”  I clearly saw that in the hearts and minds of those returning soldiers in The Pacific. I clearly see this in the heart and mind of me. Even in some of you.

And so, today, I speak to it, and I tell you that I’m not willing to short change my trajectory into my “next.” Today, having just jumped off the train, I willingly stand on the edge of my cornfield and wait. I see the tender shoots before me and will pause long enough to watch them grow in season, not according to my almanac. I will not let others rush me to the other side. They mean well with their cards and calls and casseroles, and the best part of these offerings is nourishment for my walk-thru. I am grateful for them, but they are not enough to heal me. A suffering season that has required a pound or two of flesh as well as a pound or two of struggling faith requires more than human memorial.
It requires eternal mending—sacred renovation and restoration from the only One who knows what it means to suffer perfectly through to victory. God is the trajectory that will safely land me at the threshold of my “next.” Accordingly, he meets me in train station, and he tells me not to rush the journey home. He says that he has time enough to linger with me in my thinking—my talking and my pain. He reminds me that I am the reason for the battle he waged—for the sacred ground he fought to preserve, the hallowed hill he climbed to take. And that according to him, all that is required with my getting on with it is a willingness to place my wearied hand in his nail-scarred one and to rest my wounded flesh next to his. Together, we will unhurriedly watch the harvest come in.
Victories are important, friends, but not all of them are won on the battlefield. Some of them are won next to Jesus, in the silent fields that surround a heart and life upon the return home. This is where I’m standing today. Others may see the battle as over, but I see it is ongoing. Not because I have some martyring need to linger in the pain, but rather because I know that band-aids are poor company when wounds fester with lingering infection. Thus, I give myself permission to tenderly and carefully walk through the mine-field in front of me. I give you permission as well.
Don’t rush you’re getting on with it. Simply live the grace that is given you today, and drink in the view from our Father’s side. He is the trajectory who will safely and wholly… holy lead you home. As always…
Peace for the journey,
PS: I just asked Amelia to pick a number between 1 and 34. She picked 20. So, Cheryl is the winner of Mariel’s new study, Knowing God Through His Names. I’ll have this in the mail to you tomorrow!
error: Content is protected !!