Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On the Outside

There are times when I recognize that I am watching myself as though I am someone else. Some might call this a psychological disorder. I call it processing, coping, or even sometimes vacation. See, there are times when it can be a bit wearisome being me. A friend said once that she had not met someone quite so intense as I. Early in our marriage, my husband told me I just wore him out with all my talking.  And as I have gotten older, I think I can understand why, as I weary myself with all my thinking. So, I have learned ways to live with myself. And one of these ways is to step back and observe and, from that perspective offered by a bit of distance, I am more able to make choices for what comes next. So, here I am on the outside, looking in.

It has been almost 2 months since my father died. The books and articles say on average it takes someone about 4 months before the weight of grief begins to lessen. But, every journey I have taken through grief is as different as the relationship from which I have been severed. Each loss is unique. Each time the space in and around me is altered and therefore, I too, am changed. And each time I mourn uniquely. 

Not surprisingly, the loss of my father's presence in my life has affected all of me ... mind, body, and spirit. But, I it seems that I feel it the most in my body. Many days have been marked by a sense of being immobilized, heavy with fatigue that has been akin to moving through the thick humid air on a hot summer day in North Carolina. I'm slowed down. I don't sleep consistently. I wake tossing and turning and often climb out of bed when it is still dark and sit on the porch until the sun rises. There is no spontaneous movement into activity... no "get up and go". Everything seems to require a conscious choice. From this vantage point from without, I know this is normal. My soul and body are on the way. I know I won't feel this way forever. With a little distance, I can treat myself with kindness and grace.

“There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours. To the cognition of the brain must be added the experience of the soul.” Arnold Bennett (1867-1931)
"No amount of knowledge can prepare us for bereavement. Grief is the most intense and enduring emotion we can experience. No quick fix. No short-cut. An ancient African saying is “There is no way out of the desert except through it.” Knowledge of the grief process gives us a very generalized map of the terrain we have to cover. Each of us will take a different route. Each will choose his own landmarks. He will travel at his own unique speed and will navigate using the tools provided by his culture, experience, and faith. In the end, he will be forever changed by his journey." Click here to read all of this article offered by hospicenet.org.

And since life all about me keeps moving, each day I stir myself, clothed in my lethargy, and move into the mainstream. I move with the current. If you fall out of your boat when paddling a white water river you need to put your head back and your feet up and let the river take you feet first to where the energy dissipates and the water calms. I think I'm doing alright. I see that my feet are up. I'm moving. I know that there is an end to this. The waters will carry me to a new place. I know change has been and is being forced upon me.

I sat in the dentist chair this morning, having several 40+ year old fillings replaced. It was necessary. It was time. They were "leaking", the dentist said. Eventually, there would be decay if the work was not allowed. I had put it off in spite of the ugly stains and the sensitivity to hot and cold. I didn't want to endure the process. That hour left me feeling spacey and tired and emotionally raw. But, there is a new smile on this side of the process. So it goes with grief. It is necessary. It must be endured. Even though I know it will strip, empty, and exhaust me, grief must be allowed to do it's work of transformation. Looking in from the outside, I have just enough space to allow for the right choice. Grief will have it's way and when the work is done, my mourning will be turned into dancing.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Fragments

Sometimes the pieces tell the story better than the whole. I have kept a journal since my years at the University of North Carolina. Sometimes I go back through one of these and look at what has been highlighted to see if there is a pattern or if there is something I have forgotten that needs to be remembered. This morning as I sat on the porch, trying to wake from my grogginess, I needed words but could not write anything new. So, I flipped back through the pages and the last 4 months. Here are the fragments from along the way.

Daddy's cancer is on the move
Saying goodbye
Grief
Tired, numb
Is there anything I can do
I know grief is the evidence that death is the result of something gone horribly wrong..it was not part of        the original plan
Truth in the midst of life, death, and resurrection
Shout with joy to God. You brought us into prison...you brought us to a place of abundance
Come and listen.
I cry out for you hand of mercy to heal me. Craig Musseau
http://www.worship.co.za/ww/ww-0108.asp
I am wrung out...feeling a little anxious
In the course of time..
It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's
In that day...
If the Lord is God, follow Him
It is He who has made us and not we ourselves
For the Lord is good and His steadfast love endures forever
Listen. Be careful
He brought you out in order to bring you in
Lay Back the Darkness. Kate Campbell
http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/k/kate_campbell/lay_back_the_darkness.html
At that time..you will sorrow no more
Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down and overthrow, destroy and bring disaster
So will I watch over them to build and to plant
Rise up Lazarus
Continue letting go
Hold onto courage and hope
Do not harden your heart
"This task before me may seem unclear But it, my Maker holds". Bebo Norman
http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/b/bebo_norman/the_hammer_holds.html
He is able to sympathize with my weaknesses
Diligence .. go on .. New
He sets aside the first to establish the second
You need to persevere
Trust...acknowledge...fix your gaze...do not swerve
Practice forgiveness
There is Hope. Stuart Townend
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyMWBx6vvJo
It is finished..nothing else to do..Harmony and Peace promised.
Practice gratitude
Lord of the Living Come Live Here. Michael Kelly Blanchard 
Trust. Do good. Delight. Commit. Be still. Wait. Refrain from anger.
Forgetting what lies behind, straining toward. Eagerly await. He will transform.
Praise. Worship. Rid yourself of .. Repent.
Forgive us
Live in harmony
He himself is our peace
Follow Me
Come Holy Spirit
May your blessing be on your people
A shoot will come up
Come down my pride, stand back my passions .. I wait for God to bless me
Loss reveals
Daddy died
Do not let your heart be troubled .. Trust
Aslan is on the move
Love Lives On. Michael Kelly Blanchard
We Shall All Be Reunited. Patty Griffin
http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/pattygriffin/weshallallbereunite.html

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Redeemed

Redeemed

hymn by Fanny J. Crosby
tune by William J. Kirkpatrick

 Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb:
Redeemed through His infinite mercy,
His child, and forever, I am.

REFRAIN:
Redeemed,
Redeemed,
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
Redeemed,
Redeemed,
His child, and forever, I am.



 I know there’s a crown that is waiting
In yonder bright mansion for me;
And soon with the spirits-made-perfect,
At home with the Lord I shall be.


A few years back a friend returned from a marriage enrichment seminar and I had to ask her what was the main focus. I expected a list of “do rights” that would help make our marriages better, producing the fruits of contentment, soulfulness, and meaning.  But, I was surprised to hear her say that the theme was redemption. How does redemption define the purpose of marriage? How does the reality of Christ paying the price to buy us back from captivity to sin work in our marriages and in our lives with one another in the world?

To redeem means to deliver from evil by payment of a price…to ransom.  It is through redemption that freedom is secured for the condemned. We are the condemned. Our sins imprison us and our lives are marked for death. Our only hope is that someone come and set us free.

Spiritual redemption is costly and achieved by a great act of love and at a great cost to the one who redeems. This freedom is gained through the substitution and complete atoning sacrifice of self to death.  The goal is freedom and life.

Redemption begins with Christ, not us.  For, we find ourselves bound up tightly, in the small place that sin creates. We experience the shackles of selfishness clamped tightly around our hearts.  We struggle to set ourselves free from our infirmities.  We bang our heads against the wall of our own limitations and the limitations of others that create fears, unbelief, inability, meaninglessness, and lack of understanding. When we sing the words of the hymns we know that something is not right.  We know we are not yet to the Promised Land.  We long for the “crown that is waiting”.

In a time when the walls seemed hard and cold and the darkness threatened to smother my life, I would lay on the platform in our backyard and cry.  “Lord, I cannot save myself.  I cannot heal myself.  I cannot redeem myself from this prison.  Please allow me to experience the redemption for which you died.  Allow Your Spirit to penetrate the hard shell of my being and convince me that this is not the end, that I am not yet the one you intended me to be.”  What I wanted was a miraculous transformation of self that would have me jump down from that backyard altar and walk into the house a brand new being.  Instead, He began to open my eyes to see the planned journey to the promise that he purchased before my life began. He did not promise me a journey that would be easy or without suffering.

His instructions were clear. I was to ‘Let the past be the past’.  I was to ‘Forgive’.  I was to ‘Love without expectation’.  It seemed reasonable at the time….straight-forward. I thought, “I can do this.”  No, I couldn’t.  At least not in my own strength.  “He led me out to bring me in”.  I needed a Redeemer…One who would redeem me from my past…One Who would forgive my anger, bitterness, and hatred so I might forgive the one who betrayed me.  I needed the Lover of my soul to penetrate all of me and deliver me from the deep chasm in which I hid. I  needed to understand His love that sacrificed selflessly and without expectation so that I might be able to make room for that love to flow through me. Though it seemed forever that I was there, He did not leave me in the grave.  Through His forgiveness, by the price He paid for this sinner, I descended and ascended.  Redemption is real.

The children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt, trapped in a life that allowed no freedom. They were enslaved by a cruel taskmaster, forced into meaningless and monotonous labor.  God heard their cries and sent a deliverer.  It was not instantaneous.  In fact they had cried for years.  He could have spoken and it would have been enough to bring them out.  Instead, He showed Himself.  He stretched out His strong arm over and over again.  Yes, the goal was freedom, but also His intent was to create something new and to create a relationship with these people called His children.  That’s the part they really didn’t understand.  I wouldn’t have either.  He had waited a long time to come…so long they had nearly forgotten Him.

Over and over, this God of deliverance said, “Let my people go!”  It wasn’t that He wasn’t able to instantly deliver them from Pharaoh.  For reasons we cannot fully understand, He chose to work through a process of deliverance.  We can see the probability that He had "faith through revelation" in mind. We can speculate that He wanted His children to understand His ways, His character, His purpose. We can guess that in using the repetitious lessons of His intervention through the plagues, that the long-imprisoned minds and hearts of His people might begin to break free from their  dispirited cells.  He wanted more for them than just freedom.  He wanted them to experience life through understanding and He was willing to pay the price.  He created opportunity after opportunity for them to see Him and respond in relationship with Him.

So often I am like these imprisoned children.  The pain and suffering in the face of the imperfect is so great in this life that  I fail to see God’s presence.  At times, I am so disheartened by my own misery that I care nothing about the development of faith or relationship.  I just want to feel better.  I want to be saved for self’s sake.  But, my God does not allow me to live such a shallow life.  He has brought me out of Egypt.  He has paid the price of my ransom.  He has atoned for my sin.  I am free…but, not just for myself…not just to feel better…not just to be happy…not just to be at peace.  He brought me out to bring me in…to try me and test me and to see what is in my heart.  He wants me to understand Him and His ways.  He wants me to be one with Him.  Redemption is the only means to experience Him.  Participating in the process is the only path that leads to fellowship with the One who made us and then onward into relationships.

Each autumn, I watch the leaves fall from the trees in the backyard.  I look up at the changing colors as the cycle of life-death-life speak to me of the process of redemption.  Colors are released in varying array as death readies these trees for winter.  I know it is not the end. I know that in six months these same trees will experience the sap rising and the formation of new, yet the same leaves.  There is a time for everything under the sun. A time to live and a time to die.

Henri Nouwen says that prayer is God’s means to..
‘unite us with Jesus and lift the whole world through Him to God in a cry for forgiveness, reconciliation, healing in mercy. Prayer is leading every sorrow to the source of all healing; it is letting the warmth of Jesus’ love melt the cold anger of resentment; it is opening space where joy replaces sadness, mercy supplants bitterness, love dispels fear, gentleness and care overcome hatred and indifference. But, most of all, prayer is the way to become and remain part of Jesus’ mission to draw all people to the intimacy of God’s love.’
From—“Prayer Embraces the World”

We must allow the Spirit to speak to us. We must pray for the redemptive work of Christ on the cross to penetrate the walls of our busyness and unconscious self- righteous efforts to “do it right”.  Can we admit that in our own “freedom” we might really be imprisoned?  Underneath our deep layer of goodness, of wholesome living, of strong and sincere efforts to live well, flows the blood of Christ. We must somehow allow our experience to start there, beneath all the layers.  It is the blood of Christ that redeems and fuels the reconstruction of our lives. We must allow God, through the process, to peel back our fa├žade and expose our true selves in all their rawness, to convince and convict us of the work of Christ.  It is in the dying off of our self-driven efforts at life that the brilliance of our lives bought by His death is revealed. Then relationship in truth and spirit becomes possible.  Then the Truth and Spirit will be present in our marriages, our friendships, our work relationships. But, this is not without a cost to ourselves.

Though the price of redemption is paid by another, to experience this we must come out of our cells when the door opens.  We must identify with the One whose keys unlocked the door.  We must walk with Him through His death/our death.  It is messy, painful, even gruesome.  We trust Him in the midst of this death because we know as He rose we too shall be raised. Redemption…the act of setting free the prisoner by another through a strong and forceful act….the Resurrection.

Why? He wants us to move out from that union He bought for us and live out His gift with one another. He gives us Himself, His love, His gifts, His work.  We are to be His body, bearing His creative and redeeming love to one another.

How do we do this?  How do we LET the Spirit of Christ dwell in us richly, bringing to us His gift of redemption?  How do we receive this gift in light of the strong truth that we are not worthy?  How do we give?  We can’t ...at least not apart from being tried and tested to make room for Him.  When the Israelites were delivered from Pharaoh and escaped through the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, they couldn’t truly understand.  God took them directly to the edge of the Promised Land.  Upon spying it out they could see how wonderful it was, but fear of loss and the death of their families, lack of understanding, and lack of faith kept them from entering in. So God turned them back and they circled for forty years.  God could have taken them in and driven out the enemies they feared, but He didn’t. He wanted more for them than just to have the Promised Land.  Instead of simply doing it all,  He went before them with a pillar of fire and the cloud of unknowing and led them through the wilderness.  He taught them, He disciplined them, He fed them, He gave them water. He formed them into a people, into a community.  As the former died, the new was born. They were meant  to dwell in the Promised Land as a people, as God’s people.

When they came around again and looked across the Jordan to the Promised Land they knew the One that led them. This time they trusted and obeyed.  They consecrated themselves and followed the ark of the Covenant into the water.  Though they likely were still afraid, they now knew the One who bought them, paid the price, and brought them out of Egypt.  Unbelief had died. Now there was meaning and purpose outside their own wants and needs.  They had been redeemed.  Their hearts and minds, their families, their community had grown in the process of being taken out to enter in.

So, how do we do it?  We cry out, “Redeem us!”  We wait for what already is ours. When the Spirit leads us into the wilderness, we look and listen and submit to what the Lord wants to teach us, to how He wants to refine us, how He wants to love us.  When we feel our hearts full of the love of Christ for another, we give it and watch for the work of creation to make something new.  When the love of Christ comes into our small places, we lay aside our pride and allow His courier to give to us.  In these ways we will know redemption…in our marriages, our friendships, in the communities in which we live. It begins with Jesus.

It will require a price.  A price Christ paid for us, yes, but also a price Christ wants us to understand and participate in.  He paid the price, set up the Kingdom, delivered us, led us out, to lead us in…to something brand new.  Redemption brings us in to a place where we can experience His life in us, in our marriages, in our friendships, in our communities. The evidence of the work of redemption becomes evident in our lives. We begin to look and behave more like Jesus.

                           We participate in His sacrifice as we give our lives to others as He did.
We grieve over the lost of “Jerusalem”.
We feel the agony of Gethsemene as we suffer through the death of our former selves.
We reach out our hands to touch the sick and injured.
We lay down our lives for our friends.
We love our neighbors as ourselves.
We respect and honor our husbands.
We love our wives as our own bodies.
We rejoice over the return of the prodigal.
We restore the one who betrayed us.
We accept.
We let the past be the past.
We forgive.
We love.
All because He paid the price for us to enter in.

I know there's a crown that is waiting
In yonder bright mansion for me;
And soon with the spirits-made-perfect,
At home with the Lord I shall be.