Grief: A Journey

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Lao Tzu

 

Have you ever gone on a journey—a hard journey—not knowing or understanding how to navigate or find your way, hoping for or needing someone to travel with you? Maybe someone you love and trust to help you when the road gets rough, and someone who may need your help, too? Recently, I read a true story about a youth leader who sacrificed his first few days of marriage to accompany a high school student on a journey to Yosemite National Park. The student planned to drop out of school to become a rock climber, and because he had intended to travel alone, he was surprised that his friend wanted to go with him.

The student knew nothing of the youth leader’s marriage; but because the youth leader saw that his young friend had made up his mind and could benefit by having someone with a bit more life experience go with him, he chose to go on this journey—knowing that most likely his friend would realize on his own that this idea probably wasn’t the best. Within a couple of days on the trail, he did just that, and the younger man decided on his own that he wasn’t cut out for rock climbing and that perhaps quitting school wasn’t the best idea.

Life Journeys

Like the story above, where the two friends took an actual journey—and the younger man had his own journey learning some valuable lessons—there are different types of journeys in life: when we travel to new places, take a walk or bike ride, visit our grandparents or friends across the country, fly on a plane or ride a train. There are also the kind where we learn new lessons, change the way we feel or think, and the kind where we need help from others to understand our emotions. We often don’t understand that this kind of journey may not end in just a few days; the journey of grief has no stopwatch, and we don’t always know where we are going.

A Journey of Grief

Andrew Lindwall lost his dad when he was only four years old, and he needed help learning how to navigate the feelings and questions he had. Someone I Love Has Died: Grief is a Journey of Discovery is part of Andrew’s story. He and his grandfather take a walk—a journey—through woods, hills, streams, and valleys, and together they share thoughts and feelings that help them both travel a path toward understanding grief and a very difficult part of life.

“If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk,
then crawl, but by all means keep moving.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.
But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward  to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 13:13, 14

Sensitive and Deep

“I should have been a great many things, Mr. Mayer.” Jo March

Sometimes, I think I missed my calling.

Actually, maybe I missed more than one:

  • In 6th grade, I was going to be an actress.
  • In 9th grade, I was going to be a singer. And I fell in love with Dan Fogelberg.
  • In 11th grade, I was going to be a philosopher. No, I was a philosopher. I wrote “poetry” and prose and recorded all of my save-the-world plans. I even wrote down in numerous journals all of the emotions and oh so deep thoughts that I just knew very few people had ever had in the history of the world. I even sat in a tree with my guitar and sang John Denver songs for hours at a time. IN A TREE! JOHN DENVER! (My mother loved that one and told that story for years).
  • At one point, I even had the idea that having a nudist colony would be the answer to ridding society of shallowness. Oh brother!
  • In college, I was going to work with special needs children. (Looks like I’m making progress on saving the world here).
  • Later in college, I wanted to work in the inner city with the poor. Not only work with them, but live there and love them to Jesus.
  • After college, I came really close to working in a school in Belize, ministering to and teaching children in a poor village. (Getting closer!).

A lot of years have come and gone since my aspiring actress days and those sensitive and deep high school journals. I’ve been so busy doing so many other things than what I thought I’d do that I haven’t had time to regret not following through on all the things I dreamed about. I ended up working at a camp, loving on kids and seeing their lives changed. (I also worked with horses, but their lives didn’t change very much). During those summers, I acted, sang, taught philosophy, cried with and hugged children who were rich in material things but poor in spirit. I met the man I married. I had five children, began homeschooling, built and lived in a country cottage, and learned how to garden. I delivered meals to shut-ins and volunteered with a local food and assistance ministry.  I went on mission trips to poor villages and helped build houses, community centers, and a school.

So I guess all in all, I have been a great many things. My calling didn’t change, and I never missed it. I changed and began to live what I was truly called to, without even knowing it.

My heart-song is of gratefulness  – thanksgiving for all the challenges, laughter, tears, late into-the-night discussions about life, all that I’ve taught, all that I’ve learned, and all that is still out there for me to learn. I know we are always called to be sensitive to the needs of others, to praise of God, to learn and grow in grace, to give those around us a taste of beauty. To share the depth and breadth of God’s love.

I still listen to Fogelberg – but I’m so very thankful that I didn’t try to follow through on the nudist colony. The world is a much, much better place because of it!

Dedicated to Sue, my dear friend and one of the most sensitive and deep people I know.

Good-bye, Comfort Zone

Lately, I’ve been asking God why we are here, in Denver. Other than my husband’s job. OK, I guess that’s a pretty big one, but I know there has to be something more than just that. Why would God take us away from our home, the one we built with our own hands, the one we made home for 27 years? The one where we raised our kids, laughed, cried, built a pet cemetery, held neighborhood carnivals, held church meetings, rented rooms, hosted missionaries, planted gardens?

Yes, I have been asking that question – a lot. Moving into a house so unlike the one we left, leaving our cottage in the woods, leaving friendships we nurtured over so many years, leaving behind… leaving behind the life we made there. Leaving behind…

But we are here…and there must be a reason, an eternal one. And although the answer has been there in my heart all along, and has even popped up several times, I’ve quickly just put it right back where it came from, thank you very much. But yesterday, not only did I hear the answer, I also heard the solution. Our pastor gave it to me, although he didn’t know I even had a question. We are here because we have been sent. Sent. And I need to own my “sentness.” Yes, I need to continue to ask Him the question, Why have You sent me here? but with a different focus. I need to focus on my delivery. If I linger too long in the other place, I won’t be able to deliver on the task, the mission of sent.

This is a new and different place, a place I never dreamed I’d be. But if I have to be anywhere, I’m thankful that I’ve been sent by the God of the universe, because He knows exactly why I’m here. Jesus was sent, and He sends us, every day. He has given me a job, an eternal one. And He wants me to ask the question, regularly. Daily. But when I ask, the focus is not on the inconvenience or the change or the difference; it’s on the true answer, on whoever it may be. Maybe the neighbors next door, or the person I see in the coffee shop, or other parents who need encouragement. I’m given opportunities daily to deliver on sent. Am I going to ask the question at the right time with the focus on delivery? Or will I continue to look back and think about what we left behind?

Oh Lord, make me worthy of sent…give me a heart to deliver your Love and Grace, wherever I am, wherever is Home.

Help

I just finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and oh what a book! The emotion I felt, almost from the beginning, caught me by surprise. But it didn’t take long for me to understand those feelings, because I was a child of 1960s Mississippi — I lived that story. We had full time “help” in our home…I was one of the children eating her cooking, dirtying the house she cleaned, hearing her phone conversations. We weren’t wealthy at all, but living in small town Mississippi just south of Jackson made my mother feel the need to keep up with the neighbors, and having Help was what anyone who was anyone did.

I recently met a childhood friend for lunch, someone I hadn’t seen in about 40 years. We had a delightful time, catching up on life, reminiscing about our childhood in Mississippi. She lived there long after our family moved away (never to have full time help again – for us, it was just a Mississippi thing), and she experienced things that I still have a hard time believing truly happened, still happen, in today’s times. She enlightened me about some of the events that occurred during that 1960s-Civil Rights-Small-Town time in MS – some while we lived there, some in later years – and I realized for the first time just how insulated we were as children. I’m sure my parents knew about those things, things that often happened on the “other side of the tracks”; or as I learned through my friend, often happened on “our side”, because in many homes the Help weren’t welcome outside of working hours or their work environments.

Many years later, when my family – including my mom – was passing through our small Mississippi town, I wanted to call our “Help” and take her out to dinner. I hadn’t seen her in about 25 years, and I wanted her to meet my husband and children. As a child I loved Lou, not unlike Skeeter loved Constantine.  So I looked through the phone book, randomly calling numbers that might help me find her. I eventually found an address and went to her house. What a great reunion! As she answered the door and saw me, she yelled, “Is that my baby??” Not that she recognized me…I’m sure someone gave her a heads up that I was looking for her. We visited an hour or more, but she wouldn’t let us take her out. My mom told me later that she didn’t go with us because “it just isn’t done here.” What were we doing that shouldn’t be done? Eating out in small town Mississippi with someone from the other side of the tracks.

I laughed and cried while reading The Help – and while visiting with my childhood friend. My memories of that time are warm and nostalgic. I loved Lou, not because she helped us with cleaning and cooking and ironing, but because her real help was with life, leading and teaching me to become a good person. She truly loved me, and all these years later she’s stayed in my heart. If she were here today, I’d invite her out for a meal. But if that didn’t work, I’d do all I could to be her help. I’m thankful that, unbeknownst to any of us at the time, we were learning a much deeper and greater lesson about life. I hope I can help pass that lesson on.

My House

So I’m trying to sell my house. I KNOW this is a bad time to sell anything, much less a house. But my house is special. I’ve raised 5 children here, entertained a zillion friends of all ages, taught and learned and read and played music here. I’ve gardened here and learned all about antique roses. We have a pet cemetery on a hill under a tree with numerous family friends who’ve come and gone. My children hosted neighborhood carnivals here, and the trail they forged from Grandma’s house next door is still there. We’ve played here, cried here, loved here. I home schooled my kids here (and I learned just as much as they did, if not more). My husband built our house from the ground up, along with help from friends, and together we’ve made it home.

Truth be told, I really don’t want to sell my house. My family moved around a lot when I was growing up, and since I was painfully shy, those moves weren’t easy, and I don’t have fond memories of them. Being in this house as long as we have has given me roots and a sense of contentment and stability. I’d just as soon grow old and die here as move anywhere. But I need to be where my husband is…and I believe that God is working to take us out of our comfort zone because He has other plans in another place – and maybe in another house.

When my brain cells are working in a semi normal state, I begin to understand that maybe not everyone wants a house 15 miles from the nearest WalMart; and maybe they don’t want to take care of a yard, and they don’t care about having a cottage garden. Not everyone likes having a country dog or an in-ground trampoline. So it seems, with the way things are right now, that my house won’t sell. But how are things, really? Only God knows that. So my house will sell, at the right time and to just the right person.

Who knows? Maybe it will go to someone with a green thumb who wants to learn about antique roses. I hope so.roses3

Saying goodbye…

I went to have a cup of coffee with my mom this morning; instead, I said goodbye—for the last time. I went to see her, knowing that she hadn’t been well, and when I arrived, she was unconscious and couldn’t be roused. I know she could hear me, because when I called her name, she tried to answer—and when I told her to “wake up” she groggily said “I’m awake.” But she couldn’t open her eyes or even move her head. I didn’t know at the time that she was saying goodbye to life as she’d known it for 90 years.

The other day, a friend asked me how I want to die. I hadn’t expected the question, so my answer was somewhat thoughtless; “Quickly” was my response. Not that I necessarily want to die soon—but when it’s time, I want to go quickly, not linger knowing what’s inevitable. He gave us (his class…I was visiting a favorite professor from college) a challenge by telling us the story of his dad—how when he found out that he had only a couple of months to live, he decided to spend the time “saying goodbye” to friends and loved ones, drinking coffee, catching up—maybe doing whatever was necessary for him and the others to feel as if they were finishing well with their relationships and enjoying what time was left.

I thought about that a lot, and I like it. I also thought about my response to his question, and I think I’ll stick with my answer. But I think I’ll amend it a bit and take up his challenge this way: I hope that before I die, whenever that is, I’ll feel as if my relationships are healthy and enjoyable and as caught up as possible in today’s fast-paced world. I hope I can be a blessing to those around me, and in turn be blessed because of others, whether I see them regularly or never again. I hope I’ll be able to live and finish well with each of them, whether they’re a mile away or a continent. And I hope I’ll feel “comfortable” with death knowing that I’ve lived as unto the Lord and that I’ll go to a better place.

I guess I just want to have the confidence of knowing that all is right with the world in my relationships. I want the people I love to know how grateful I am for each of them and that I cherished every minute with them—and that those cups of coffee we shared meant more than just having a hot drink.

So I said good-bye to my mom…not over coffee, as I would have liked—but I hope she was ready, with enough pots of coffee behind us to know that we were all caught up and finishing well.

Winding down, but close to my heart

It’s hard to believe that I’m down to my last few years of “formally” teaching my children – my youngest will be 11 tomorrow, and as I was working on school organization today, I had a mix of emotions rise up more than once. I know there are still several years left, but it feels weird to actually be winding down. It seems like yesterday when those middle-of-the-night panic attacks hit me, afraid that my children would never learn to read…

But we have had some wonderful years home schooling! I’ve saved so much of their work – papers written and corrected, artwork, poems, favorite books – and everything I look at brings back sweet memories. Most of them are simple, non dramatic, times no one else in the world, including my kids, would think at all significant. Any many of them probably weren’t. But they are in my heart as part of the fabric of my life — Davy sitting at her desk working on her Texas history newspaper; 4 year old Bo excitedly running into the room after he’d seen a blimp fly over the house, and not knowing what it was, drawing a picture for me; Erin drawing her sweet love pictures to me; Alyx memorizing The Swing; Cassie as a baby, sitting right beside us during all the activity.

Oh, it hasn’t always been easy…the piano being played always at the worst time -at least for someone; many tears over math; frustrations over siblings being too noisy; and never having enough time. Did we ever finish anything? Probably not. But we made so many valuable memories.

I’m so very grateful and blessed to have had these years, and I look forward to the few years left. What a privilege. I know I’ll feel a sadness, like I did today, when it actually does come to an end. But I also know that I have a wealth of remembrances to warm my heart, and every one is a treasure.