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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Near Death Experience.

My grandpa died when I was 4. He was big and tall and had a black patch over one eye. A stroke patient before his 55th birthday (and long before I was even born), he walked with a cane and couldn't speak. Needless to say, as a little girl,he scared me. But laying there in that hospital bed with his wife and daughters gathered around, he didn't garner my fear but my pity.
I remember sitting quietly on my mom's lap until Grandma whispered through tears "He's gone". My mom and aunts each kissed his cheek and stood in the institutional gray room silently weeping. I remember a few moments later (or what seemed like a few moments, but I guess in reality, it must have been a much longer time) watching the hearse pull out onto the street and off to the funeral home. After that, I have no memories...not of a funeral or memorial service or of what we did after he died. I only remember the death.
Flash forward a few years to our house on East End Street. The police showed up at our door. I don't remember the time or day or the weather, but I remember the panic in both my parents eyes. Dad grabbed his bag and left. My mom, tears in her eyes broke into fervent prayer. Suicide, they said. So young, they said. So much life left, they said. Her kids were close to my age and now they were motherless.
Finishing up my freshman year in college, I came home for a few days to regroup before starting my summer job. As soon as I walked in the door, my mom told me she wasn't doing well. Moments later, the phone rang. My best friend's voice sounded tired and sad and all she said was "she's gone". We got off the phone and I walked the few blocks to her house. Her aunt was cleaning. Everything was quiet and strange and even the house seemed to know she was gone. We hugged. We cried. Then we talked about everything and nothing. The funeral, the first one I'd attend as an "adult" upset me. Why were people eating and smiling and talking? Didn't they know she was gone? Didn't they get it? So young. So much life left.

Since then I've been near death many times. Family members. Close friends. Strangers. Tragedy. Cancer. Accidents. Natural causes. Old. Young. Too young. Too fast. Too slow. At some point, it doesn't matter how or when death comes, just that it comes.

Does it make it easier when there's the hope and certainty of heaven? The obvious answer is yes.
But missing the person is still just as real.

The grief feels just as raw.

The reality of day to day without them is just as empty.

The aching arms of a mother longing to feel the weight of her baby.

The quiet, cold loneliness of a spouse-less bed.

The missed conversations with a dear sister.

The advice never to be given by a wise mother.
The dreary prospect of another meal eaten alone.

On the phone with a widower last night, the reality and intensity of his pain was obvious. Does he believe his sweetheart is in heaven? Yes. Does he have the hope of seeing her again? Absolutely. But even after time, his suffering lingers and his lonely heart hurts and longs for her.
I love a line from the Sara Groves song What Do I Know?: "Death can be so inconvenient. You try to live and love and it comes and interrupts."


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In Between

Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees takes off his shoes. ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

On the cusp of dawn, leaving the night behind, but not quite daybreak.
The in between.
Mysterious. Dark and light mingled and entwined and, for a few brief moments, inseparable.
Wide awake during the in between, praying, thinking, I strangely had a flashback to college.
Religion 101. Junior year--yes I realize that is late in a college career to take a general course and the registrar and prof were not happy with me, but I was and still am of the opinion that the point of a liberal arts education is to have a diverse, balanced course of study all the way through school...ok, sorry about that...stepping off my soap box now and back to the blog... Religion 101...junior...oh yeah...
Willis P. De Boer. Close to retirement, lanky with what I thought at the time were unusually long appendages (now I know that it's just part of being Dutch) and a slight brogue, he gestured with those far reaching fingers and said we were the in "the already but the not yet".
The already but the not yet.
The in between.
Like seeing a mountain range far off we recognize the majesty and vastness, but don't really begin to understand their scope until we travel into them. The view is different from the foothills to the passes to the mountain tops to the high plateaus. Discovery is around every corner and rarely looks the way we expected it to.
When Jesus came to earth, He ushered in God's Eternal Kingdom. It's already here. But as is painfully obvious, the fulfillment of that Kingdom seems forever in the future with, at times, little evidence of its existence. For the past 2000 years we, the human race, have been journeying through the mountains of the already but the not yet.
Oh, we're in awe of the beauty and rugged delicacy. But we're fickle people and even the majesty of the mountains becomes mundane and all we see are the rocks and foot falls. Sometimes we're fearful that any misstep could lead to disaster. Not always aware that what we're in is so much bigger than us, we continue on.
I know I've felt lost in the the in between. Caught in the middle...wanting desperately to get through or at least to a peak so I can get a bigger view and maybe see how much farther there is to go. Caught. Between night and day.
But then there are those moments, when beauty or art or music or communion with loved ones, or acts of kindness and generosity, or the realization of sacrifice transcends what we can grasp and is something felt not thought, and we get a glimpse of the already but the not yet. Signs of the coming dawn.
Life in the in between.

***forgive mixing metaphors and being a bit melodramatic...remember I wrote it in the wee hours and after reading Bronte.***

Monday, September 13, 2010


In my early 20's I naively thought I was almost there. I could see it and touch it and ignorantly (and arrogantly) assumed I'd reach it by 30. Delusions of spiritual grandeur filled my head. God was near; I was a tested, approved workman for Jesus and I was not ashamed. I knew I needed to grow some, but certainly I'd arrive within a decade.

In my 30's I came to the realization that I hadn't reached it but someday I would. It was out there--waiting for me. Struggling through ups and downs of marriage and child rearing, dealing with moves and job changes and all the stuff of life, I felt like a veteran. Surely a few more "life lessons" and I'd be there. There: at that magical place of faith where communion with God is easy, vibrant, natural and dieing to oneself is the norm. Sure, there would still be things to work on, but God would show me and we'd correct them and we'd keep moving ever forward.

Now, as I approach my 44th birthday (still 5 months away but looming in the near future) I don't think it's possible. I don't think we ever arrive. I think we're forever in the process of arriving...and by that I mean sometimes we're standing still.

In this life of faith, we never arrive. There's never a point of maturity in any area that won't still need growth. And not just tweaking, but full out growth. We don't/can't master anything. 10 years ago, I might have conceded to this idea but I know I would have assumed that if you don't "arrive" or at least keep moving forward at a steady, fast-ish pace, it's your fault.

But is it? Are we to blame for slow growth, stand-stills, detours and delays? Certainly, yes, at times we're the ones who inhibit growth. But always? I'm tempted to say that God holds us back knowing what we can handle and when we can handle it so He allows for growth to be slow or even at times non-existent. But I'm not sure that's true either.

Perhaps the fact that we'll never arrive is simply because we have an unlimited capacity for growth.

Who knows. All I know is that just when I think I'm pulling into the station I realize I'm actually pulling out.

Monday, September 6, 2010


The whole concert surprised me. I knew I would know a lot of the songs, but I didn't expect the band to perform so well or be so real and authentic. They pulled me in and held me with their music, lyrics and stories. They focused on God and faith in a genuine, loving way without all the cliches and syrupy crap that's often found at Christian concerts.
But their encore, that was the real surprise.
The familiar tune rang out and my heart leaped. With the building haunt of the keyboard, the repeating, echoing electric guitar and the explosion of bass my excitement grew. Then the words. Words that struck me years ago, the first time I heard them, were calling me back and reminding me once again of more. I didn't expect to hear it here. I didn't expect to ever hear it live. And yet, there I stood, surrounded by the starry night and 100,000 other souls at a Christian music festival listening to a distinctly Christian Contemporary band (MercyMe) yet hearing one of my favorite secular songs by my all time favorite group.
Taken back, surprised, it took me a moment to process it all but as soon as I did I jumped to my feet and worshipped.
One more call to my heart. One more reminder that this world is not my home.

Where The Streets Have No Name
I wanna run, I want to hide
I wanna tear down the walls
That hold me inside
I wanna reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name

I want to feel, sunlight on my face
I see the dust cloud disappear
Without a trace
I want to take shelter
From the poison rain
Where the streets have no name

Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
We're still building, then burning down love
Burning down love, and when I go there
I go there with you, it's all I can do

The city's a flood and our love turns to rust
We're beaten and blown by the wind
Trampled in dust
I'll show you a place
High on a desert plain
Where the streets have no name

Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
We're still building, then burning down love
Burning down love, and when I go there
I go there with you, it's all I can do