Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sad Times

My heart has been heavy with grief for the past couple of weeks. As a result of budget cuts in our small school district, I've been forced to grapple with the loss of the reading program I've directed for eleven years. At this point I still have a job, but what that job will be has not yet been clarified. And so, after 22 years with this school district and a professional lifetime of feeling a strong mission to help struggling readers, I find myself facing loss of professional identity.

And then blow after blow fell on my heart. New grief can cause the memory of former heart hurts to surface again, and I proceeded to behaved badly toward those closest to me as memories of ways I've been hurt in the past rushed to my conscious awareness. This closed their hearts to me and effectively robbed them of the ability to express empathy and support for me at a time when I badly needed it.

What a sad, bad time!

At 3:00 this morning I came awake and began to examine all that has happened to me at my workplace the past few weeks. After a few moments I said aloud, "STOP!" It is difficult not to rehearse what has happened in an effort to assimilate it, but that requires attempts to analyze and categorize that are likely to result in inaccurate conclusions. And so we then rehearse a version of our reality that isn't necessarily accurate, and the rehearsal itself magnifies the hurt. We want to explain how we've ended up in the situation we are in!

This morning it occurred to me that I am a child of God, and what I need to be rehearsing should be very positive. In the same way that I hope my loved ones will give me the benefit of the doubt when my behaviors seem inexplicable, I will give my Lord the same courtesy. I KNOW the Lord means me good and not harm. I will repeat to myself the same words that I remember I once said to a friend who had suffered great loss, "I don't understand why these things have happened, but I know the Lord loves you and has a plan, and I know that it is a good plan."

It seems to me that grief, large or small, can either expand our hearts or cause us to close in upon ourselves. At some point in the grief process I think we have a choice. I can choose to characterize what has happened to me from the limited base of my own understanding, conclude that I've been wronged, and rehearse that perspective until I have learned it well and can recite it by rote. The alternative is to accept that there is a gap between that I am able to comprehend and God's purposes in my life. This entails placing my trust in what I cannot see or comprehend. It is a transition that looks much easier to make in words processed on my computer screen than it feels in actual experience when my heart aches, tears flow, and grief of loss suffuses my soul.

Years ago I used colored pencils to write Psalm 119:32 on my bedroom wall. This morning, rather than rehearsing a litany of my grief, I let my eyes rest on these words and recited them aloud : I will run in the path of your commands, for you shall enlarge my heart.

Enlarge my heart, Lord. Don’t let me close in on myself. I know You mean me good and not harm. Enable me to run in the path of Your commands.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

All God's Critter's Got A Place...

The title of this post is from a song my children sang years ago as members of the junior choir in our little Methodist church. The lyrics point out that everything and everyone God created have a unique role to fulfill, and if even one of those voices is ignored, we are all impoverished. Paul says much the same in 1 Corinthians 12, when he tells us that all of the members of the Body of Christ have important roles. No matter our age or stage of development, when we belong to the Lord we still have an anointed role to play for the greater good. This week, a couple of incidents reminded me of this truth.

One afternoon, my grandson, Daniel, was standing at one of his favorite perches; atop an antique lard box pushed up to the bay window in Mom's room. Little elbows resting on the window seat, he likes to lounge there and watch the outdoor cats stalk the birds at the feeder just outside the window. On this day, Daniel was watching as a downpour of rain fell from a leaden sky. Suddenly he pointed to the floor behind the couch that sits in front of the window and said, "Ah oh!"

Now, Daniel talks constantly, with both meaningful and nonsensical strings of intonations intermixed. It would have been easy to ignore him. But his mother, out of her respect for him as the intelligent little guy he is, pulled out the couch to check out what Daniel saw. Water was leaking around the window and had formed a puddle on the floor. It was a blessing that we discovered the leak when we did, before the sitting water had time to cause the floor to warp, or continued in its path to the middle of the floor where it could have caused Mom to slip and fall. On this day Daniel, just turned two, made a valuable contribution to our family's welfare by calling our attention to the leak.

Just a few hours later, my mother mentioned that the heater in her room didn't seem to be working. Mom mentions the room temperature often, and it is difficult to keep the thermostat at a level that provides her perfect comfort. She doesn't think to remove her lap robe or to find a sweater; her first mode of attempting to correct the slightest discomfort is to call me. On this day I did not feel cold in her room and assumed that, as usual, she was was being a little bit over sensitive to feeling a tad chilly. However, I did check the thermostat for her, and it's a good thing I did. Somehow, the the setting had gotten pushed down to 55 degrees. Daniel was probably the culprit--at the time we placed the thermostat just a couple of feet off the floor, we were not thinking about the fact that placing it out of reach of the Alzheimer patient would put it in easy reach of the toddler who had not yet arrived on the scene. With the apartment temperature set 20 degrees cooler than usual, Mom really had valid cause for complaint!

The lesson for me as a caregiver is that I must not dismiss my mother's comments and observations as being unimportant. Her thoughts, feelings, and observations still have value. Sometimes, when a loved one becomes infirm, we are so hurt by the fact that they can no longer be to us what they once were, that we fail to value the role they still can play. At some point Mom's ability to "sing in the choir" may become limited to a squeeze of my hand or a grateful look that says, "You are loved." I pray for grace to continue to value the place my Mom still occupies in our family, even as her physical and mental capacities decrease.

Nice Midi of "All God's Critter's" here.... Be patient--the intro sounds simple but then it blossoms into a really fun rendition.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I Know Whom I've Believed

Just a few days ago, my uncle went home to be with the Lord. His cancer was predicted to become increasingly painful; and so we know God was good. But we weep nonetheless, we weep.

He was my mother's baby brother, six years her junior, age 79 at his death. He had a deep voice--a voice I won't hear again this side of Glory--and a personality and presence I will miss. Whenever he and my aunt visited Mom, their familiar, mingled voices always took me back to childhood days.

Since my uncle's death, I've once again been examining my own understanding of exactly what happens to Christians when they die. An exhaustive search of Scripture has yielded comforting affirmations of what I know to be true through faith. Nothing can separate us from Christ (Romans 8:35-40). Jesus will never lose one of those entrusted to Him (John 18:9). Departing this mortal life to be at home with Christ is better by far (Philippians 1:22-24).

When we depart from our mortal bodies, we will be safe in Christ in a similar way to how a blossom is safe inside the bud. When the time is full, the bud will open and the blossom will break forth. "The perishable will clothe itself with the imperishable" (1 Corinthians 15:42).

When I apply my mind to understanding all of this I soon come up against a roadblock, and that is the fact that I am flesh; and flesh cannot comprehend things of the Spirit. In the same way that a dim star disappears when I look directly at it, and yet can be perceived when I look a bit to the side, I must look aside to what I can perceive with the physical senses in order to attain a beginner's understanding of spiritual truth. In what has been created, the Lord has drawn for us analogies to things of the spirit. God's invisible qualities are visible for us through creation (see Romans 1:20).

In the end our comfort comes not from what we know, but from who we know. It is only as we gaze steadfastly into our Savior's face that the fears we feel in the face of death begin to subside.

Scripture: "Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day" (2 Timothy 1:12).

Listen to the hymn "I know Whom I Have Believed" at