Saturday, December 31, 2011

Good-bye, 2011. Hello, 2012.

At this very moment, bloggers all over the world are busy crafting wise and interesting blog entries to tie up and toss out 2011, welcoming in 2012 with all its mysterious and unknown glory.

Who am I, to buck the trend?

I have to admit, this time of year doesn't call me to look forward much. I don't do resolutions. The last time I did, I resolved to be more authentic, less of a people pleaser, and to write with courage and honesty, expressing the thoughts and feelings that I really had, as opposed to what I thought I was supposed to have. For the most part, I've been able to keep that resolution. I must have. I've gotten in enough trouble for it. Turns out, the real me isn't eveyone's cup of tea. Oh well.

What I do do at this time of year is look back. To be honest, 2011 was rough. Frikken miserable at times. Awesomely wonderful at other times. Just like life.

I cannot say that I have no regrets. I always feel an irrepressible urge to roll my eyes at the whole, "No regrets" thing. Seriously? I've made mistakes. I have sinned. I have hurt others. I'm not supposed to regret that? Of course I have regrets. Confession of our wrongs is the first step towards repentance, which leads down the glorious path of forgiveness when I bring my messes to Jesus. The fact that Jesus forgives my sins makes it possible to own them, to see the consequences, and to regret them. Then, to let them go. And if I can, make amends. If I can't, I can still leave that with God.

One thing I never regret are relationships. Even ones that go horribly wrong. I have made the choice in my life to never regret loving someone. Really loving someone. I don't mean wanting someone in my life because they make me feel good, and freaking out on them when real life hits and they prove to be as human as I am, and they are not serving their purpose of making me feel good anymore. That's not love. People are not tools designed to make us feel good. If that's what you want, get a dog.

I mean seeing people the way they truly are, and allowing them to see me the way I really am, and choosing to love anyway, even if they reject me because who I am is not what they wanted me to be. I never regret loving others, even when it hurts, because I believe that the hurt of not loving is worse than the hurt of loving and being rejected. Besides, because my Jesus loved me when I was rejecting Him, and I want to be just like Him when I grow up, with His help, I choose love.

In 2011, I learned to set healthy boundaries, to say no and mean it, and to accept the awfulness that some people carry around with them without letting that awfulness ruin my life. I got better at being hated without hating. I also saw that the ones who spur others on to hate and bitterness are not usually terribly supportive when the hatred and bitterness begin to bear ugly fruit. Sad.

I am wildly grateful for those in my life who have called me to a higher place of love and grace. I am grateful for God's forgiveness, and His love for me, which I still don't understand but am thrilled to live in daily. I am grateful to be free, especially from the heaviness of criticism and anger. I am grateful for my home, for the peaceful refuge that it is. There is freedom here, for everyone, to learn and grow with acceptance and love. No one is dominated, no one is diminished. It is safe. When I look at my home and those in it, all the lies and accusations that I have been living with over the past few years lie, filthy and broken, on my doorstep. They don't belong in here.

So, maybe I do have a few resolutions for 2012. I resolve to keep loving, in Jesus' power, even when it makes no sense. I resolve to care more about what Jesus thinks of me, and less about what people think of me. I resolve to let Jesus make me braver, stronger, more compassionate, more patient, more loving, more like Him. I resolve to reject lies, either from my own heart or from the hearts of others. There is a reason why God hates lies. Lies strangle the life out of God's people, bringing confusion and weakening us until we are useless for Him. Mostly, I resolve to follow Jesus wherever He goes in my life, even if it looks messy, even if others don't understand or approve, even if it hurts, even if I am scared and lonely and tired and even if the road that He is taking is the road I have always wanted to be on, and it all seems too good to be true.

Oh, I probably should tease my cat less. And exercise more.

Nah...just kidding.

Happy New Year, friends! Thank you for sticking with me, for reading my ramblings and for keeping me in your prayers and thoughts. I am grateful, grateful, grateful for my people. You rock. Like, seriously.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Almost done...

The semester is almost done. I am one concluding paragraph away from finishing my history research paper, and hence this semester. And I am stuck.

A friend asked me earlier to day if I was ready for Christmas. He knows about some of the things that have been going on in my life, so when I stumbled over my answer, he understood. I realized that it is entirely possible that when I do finish this research paper, and the pressures of the semester is done, the reality of the season may just hit me like a ton of bricks.

Christmas is in four days. I am separated from my husband and my mother won't be with us. Am I ready? Does that mean, do I have everything bought, wrapped and under the tree? Have I completed all the food-making plans? Is the tree up, and the house adequately decorated? Almost.

But am I ready? No. And I don't think I will ever be ready. What is ready, anyway?

Then I think about the first Christmas. Were Mary & Joseph ready for the birth of Jesus? Apparently they were, because when He came, they were there for him. He had everything that He needed. He was protected, loved, cared for.

For me, this year, there is no "ready" other than the way that Joseph and Mary were ready. I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing.

This means, that as hard as the next few days are going to be, there is no reason for me to be hiding behind an unfinished research paper. Christmas isn't about me, after all, and the One who it is about is in my heart and mind and soul. This is His thing. I'm going to let Him do His thing, and just hold on for the ride.

Now...back to the paper...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Grief & Mourning - Back to Job's friends

Remember Job's friends? Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar? It's been a while since the first entry on these guys, so here's a reminder of an unspeakably cool moment in their lives.

"When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was." Job 2:12 - 13

I think that one of the reasons many of us struggle with being genuinely helpful to those who are in mourning is that the whole mourning thing makes us so uncomfortable. It presents us with an impossible dilemma. Someone we care about is in pain. We may also be in pain. We want, more than anything, to bring some relief to the pain of our loved one. And the unfortunate truth is that there is nothing that we can do to ease such deep, profound suffering. We feel helpless, useless, sad, inadequate. It is excruciating, to want so badly to help and to be so unable to do anything. We do what we can, but it's not, and never will be, enough.

This is the amazing thing about Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. Of course they wanted to make Job feel better. His pain was breaking their hearts, too. They understood something that we, in modern times, have a tendency to forget. Maybe the goal isn't neccesarily to feel better. Maybe the pain, as horrid and crippling as it is, is supposed to be there. Maybe it's not something to relieve, or stop, but rather something to live through. Maybe mourning is a part of life, another path to be travelled. If this is true, if sorrow is something to be embraced because it honors the memory and value of the one lost, then what people who are sorrowing need is fellow travellers who will walk the path with them.

Job's friends get this. In fact, the Jewish tradition of sitting Shiva addresses the deep need that mourners have for community. When a Jewish person loses someone very close to them, the time between the death and burial is a time of intensely personal shock and grief. It is a private time for mourners, when they are often left alone while the body of the deceased is taken care of and funeral arrangements are being made. This period of time lasts for three days.

When it is over, though, the tradition of "sitting shiva" begins. A house is chosen, either the home of the deceased or the home of a close mourner. For seven days, the house is filled with people, and the mourner is rarely if ever left alone. It is understood that at this point, with the funeral services over, mourners are beginning to realize the fullness of their loss. The shock has worn off, but the ramifications of the loss are sinking in, to devastating effect. It is a wildly painful place to be, but the tradition of sitting shiva means that they do not have to be there alone. Like Job's friends, people who have comfortable places to be, productive lives to live and happy things to do, put it all aside and for as long as they can, chose to walk the paths of sorrow and pain with someone they care about. It's not easy, not for anyone.

Inherent in this tradition is the idea that sorrow is not a problem to be fixed. It is to be lived. So many things in life are uncomfortable. Giving birth. Puberty. Menopause. Bungee jumping. Watching one's parents boogie to the Beatles. Sometimes life hurts. There is something profoundly loving in the willingness to enter into someone else's pain. It is also powerful. It brings hope in acceptance, and leaves mourners feeling understood and supported. Ultimately, it becomes part of the healing.

Job's friends would go on to prove that one doesn't have to be a theological super hero in order to carry the burden of another. When Job and his friends begin to discuss the theology behind what had happened to Job, things get a little weird. Job's friends didn't "get it". Still, in a way, they had earned the right to speak, even if they were off-track. God dealt with it all in the end, anyway. The important thing, the thing that too often gets missed by preachers and teachers of the Word, is that Job's friends came, and wept, and stayed.

Isn't it amazing, how often the simplest things are the most important?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Grief and Mourning - A Story

The trip to Cornwall went much better than I thought it would. My niece was brilliant in her role as Jasmine in the play, Aladin, and while I did feel weepy at the end, I really enjoyed the energy, skill and sheer fun of the show. Afterwards, I went to my sister's and spent some quality time chatting with her. We had a lot to talk about, and it felt good to talk with someone who was literally walking the same path of mourning as I was.

I am anxious to revisit our friends from the biblical book of Job. I'll share this one story and then we'll talk some more about it, probably tomorrow.

A few years ago, it was early morning and Grace was getting ready to head out to catch the school bus. We lived in a very small house, and our first floor was just one room. The television was on, set to a news channel. I was in our little kitchen making Grace's lunch while she packed her school bag. We both were half-heartedly paying attention to the television when a story from the Middle East came on. The screen showed a funeral procession, with hundreds of mourners following the upraised casket in a weeping, wailing crowd. The casket was moved awkwardly through the crowd as broken-hearted men grasped at it, pulling at their hair and face and weeping loudly.

We watched for a few moments, and then Grace made a comment, expressing outwardly exactly what I had been thinking.

"I wish we could mourn like that here."

This is something I have often thought about. There are people in my life who, if I lost them through death, would no doubt result in someone having to scrape me off of the ceiling. There are circumstances where screaming into a pillow just doesn't cut it.

The thing that really interested me about this incident is that Grace is not an overly emotionally expressive person. She has a calm nature, and is a deeply private person. Her observation wasn't a matter of personality or personal preference. She does, though, have a profound awareness of the value of people, and an understanding of the depth of pain that comes when we lose someone we love.

Her comment encouraged me to keep thinking and questioning our cultural approach to mourning.

More next time.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Going to Cornwall

I'm going to Cornwall today, for the first time since my Mum's memorial in October. My niece is in a community theater production of Aladin, in which she will no doubt be brilliant. Grace and I are heading in to see the 1:00pm show.

I woke up this morning filled with anxiety. I thought it was because I had had a rough night, physically, and was concerned about having to deal with a busy day while carrying a sleep debt. Then I realized that it was the first time I am heading down the 401 to Cornwall since October. Somehow, my body seems to catch on to these things more quickly than my brain does.

Of course, my brain always clues in...eventually. So now I know why my stomach is churning. Still, I am planning on having one of those days that has become more and more common lately. Bittersweet. I will keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other. The day will most likely bring sorrow, but laughter as well. I will be so proud of my niece, and will cry because of it. I will also cry because Mum won't be there beside me to fuss about the seating and tell people that Meagan is her granddaughter.

I don't dread it. One thing I have learned, in dealing with adversity, is that everything becomes much easier to handle if we give up the foolish notion that these kinds of things shouldn't happen to us. It is what it is. If I accept that, my eyes are open to all the many sweet and wonderful things that are also going on, while life is river-dancing on my heart.

Let the show begin....
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