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Hoping for Hope: A Meditation on Advent

Hoping for Hope: A Meditation on Advent

In 20 days, the days will start getting longer.

It feels pretty dark right now, with a bleak November casting its darkness into the holiday season. Some years it’s harder than others to believe that the light is coming again and this has been one of those years. We’d be forgiven if we temporarily forgot that the light always wins. That, in fact, the light is already winning.

sunrise

The trajectory of the earth in its orbit assures us that the days will get longer again. The sun will shine brighter, longer and warmer. The lingering cold will eventually be pushed away by light so abundant that we will forget we ever feared for its loss. We will delight, once again, in the early seedlings of spring as they push their way through still-frozen earth.

In some Christian traditions, Advent is observed in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It’s described as a season of waiting. But that’s not quite right. December is not just for waiting, it’s for longing.

It’s for reaching towards a hope we’d almost stopped believing in. It’s for reminding ourselves that the light comes back, that love can’t be stopped, that the arc of the universe bends towards justice and that even when things seems bleak, hope is hovering just over the horizon.

Sometimes, when the darkness comes too early and stays too late, we cannot find it in ourselves to hope for the light itself. We have to instead hope for the hope. That’s the best way I can describe longing–hoping for the hope. Holding on to the shred of a ray of light, of a baby born in a manger, of experiences of Love that are so intense that we have dared to claim that God walked among us.

So if this year the tinsel looks like empty promises, or the Christmas lights gleam like shallow smiles, then I will not tell you to have hope. I will tell you instead to have longing. Long for the song of the angels to return. Long for all the childish dreams you gave up long ago, of the fairy magic of Christmas to illuminate dark corners. Long for the crazy words of biblical prophets, for nonsense about Messiahs and Kingdoms of God and wolves lying with lambs on this very earth. Long for the things we sing in hymns on Sunday but can’t quite believe on Monday morning.

Long for these things because longing is the work of preparing the soul for hope.

hope-is-the-thing-with-wings

If “hope is the thing with feathers,” then longing is the work of building a nest. It is the work of pulling the thin threads of promise together with the brittle sticks of despair so that, in time, hope can take residence again.

And this is where we have to be clear that Advent is not for waiting. It’s not for wait-and-see, or hope-for-the-best. It is for crying out with the Psalmist, “I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, as a parched land.”

March will come, metaphorically and in real time. It will come with a promise of spring but also with its fierce storms and unpredictable winds. And we will be there, ready to do the work of hope then because we have done the work of Advent now. 

So if your heart is heavy this season, whatever the reason, then let it be heavy. Don’t try to force hope to take up residence too soon–false hope is flighty and will leave when you need it most. Instead, use this time to reach deep into the heavyness. In that depth, you will find longing and that will be your way forward.

 

Post-Election Weekend Game Plan Options for Everyone

Post-Election Weekend Game Plan Options for Everyone

You survived the week! YAY YOU.

Whatever shape you’re in right now, take a minute to congratulate yourself. This was a tough week. Lord have mercy, let’s figure out how to do democracy better by the midterm elections, shall we?

I, for one, have emotional whiplash from all the hurt and pain I’m seeing. (And feeling, because I’m not a robot.) I’d planned to write more about listening and healing our nation this week but we’re not there yet as a nation. So what I’m offering up instead is your game plan for the weekend. No cute graphics, no tweetable quotes, just find yourself on the list below and use the steps as a starting place. If you change “categories,” that’s fine. Just check in with your new game plan and use it instead.

You’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it. This is a good action position heading into the weekend but your challenge is going to be slowing down. Here’s your action plan:

1.       Sleep. Staying up all night stewing won’t accomplish anything.

2.       Find something concrete to do this weekend. If you can find a group that’s meeting to plan next steps, join them. If not, make a list of your friends, family and contacts. Who on that list might feel vulnerable right now? Ask them, “Are you ok?” Then listen. Do not attempt to get them involved in planning right now. They aren’t ready, you’ll both be frustrated and you’ll burn out because you’ll feel like no one cares. They do, they just can’t care this way yet.

3.       Make a donation to a group that does the work you’re worried about getting done. I donate to the ACLU, my local LGBTQ outreach and a low income health care organization.

You’re sick, sad and haven’t stopped crying.

1.       Sleep. On Tuesday night, as I watched the election results, I texted my husband in disbelief. “I can’t even understand what’s happening.” He gave me the best advice ever. “Make some Sleepytime, read some fiction, go to sleep and figure it out in the morning.” (Well, almost. He actually said, “take a sleeping pill, wash it down with a glass of wine, read some fiction and figure it out in the morning.” But that advice was time limited. It’s not a good long term plan.)

2.       Shower.

3.       Take a walk. If you can’t be outside because you don’t want to see anyone, do yoga. I recommend Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube.

4.       Look at your calendar for the week and ask yourself, “What is the bare minimum I need to do to be ready for the week?” Do that much and no more. The rest of the time is yours.

You’re afraid.

1.       Assess the risk. Are you physically safe right now? If not, get somewhere public and assess next steps.

2.       Call two allies. These are people you think you can trust. They may be friends, a local safe house or a church. If you don’t have one, message me. When you call, say this, “I’m really scared. If I need anything, can I call you?”

3.       Sleep.

4.        Make a safety plan.

You voted for someone other than Donald Trump and you think everyone is over reacting.

1.       Check in with someone who is struggling. Say this, “I know this is hard for you. I’m so sorry. If you want to talk about it, I will listen.”

2.       Listen. Do not say, “it will be ok,” “the sun will come up,” or “God has this in control.” Say this, “I’m so sorry.” “This is not ok.” “I will stand with you.” “What can I do to help you get through the next few days?”

You voted for Donald Trump and you don’t understand what all the fuss is about and/or your feelings are hurt because everyone keeps calling you a bad voter/American/Christian.

1.       Take a deep breath.

2.       Call a friend who is struggling. Say, “I know this is hard for you. I’m so sorry. If you want to talk about it, I will listen.”

3.       Listen. Do not say one single thing. Nope. Not one. You are in the position of power here because you won. You’re happy. That’s awesome. But the loser doesn’t have to comfort the winner. This is how we help each other: the people with the most emotional strength help the people with the least emotional strength. Right now, you’re in group A, even if it’s not fair that people are mislabeling you. I know, it sucks. I’ve been there. Next week, you can talk with them about it. Not now.

4.       If you’re really up for it, ask what you can do to help. If not, that’s ok. Offer a hug and listen if they say no. (Again with the over-reaction, I know you’re thinking that. But one of the issues on the table here is how we treat each other’s bodies, so some people are in need of a safe, loving hug and others want to huddle down. That’s ok.)

Love and light, friends.

That One Time, When I Was A Mess

That One Time, When I Was A Mess

The fact that I was at a MOPS meeting was a complete surprise to me.  I drove there and signed myself in, of course, but it was so removed from my normal behavior that it felt of an out-of-body experience.  Even now, that memory is tinged with a hazy yellow, like someone has overlaid the “halcyon days” filter. 

I went because my neighbor invited me.  She seemed nice and fairly normal. I was new to the area and desperate for friends.  Peering through my front windows anxiously waiting for a neighbor to emerge so I could “just happen” to wander outside is a slow way to make friends.  Even so, I wasn’t really expecting much.  “I’ll go for a meeting or two,” I told my husband. My experience of people who were in MOPS was that they were out of my league, with their 5 kids and their memorized scriptures and their adorable crafts.  Clearly, it wasn’t a group I’d join, with my progressive Jesus, my 1 kid and my lack of scrapbooking ability. 

This is not the first time that I have done something out of character in the wake of a move.  Moves throw me off balance.  While some people eagerly welcome the chance to delve deep into a new place, I like my home and my identity to stay intact.  Changing places makes me feel like I don’t belong, which causes me to rush for safety like a moth seeking the light of a flame. 

If you’ve avoided MOPS your whole life, let me tell you that a central part of the meeting experience is “joys and challenges.”  This is the time when everyone writes down a joy and a challenge from their week.  The idea filled me with dread.  Share details from my life with 7 strangers?  Nope.  But of course it’s sort of a “thing” and I couldn’t really get out of doing it.    

“I’m happy that my daughter is settling in well at school.  My challenge is that I’m new to the area and still feeling unsettled.” I said cheerily. Everyone smiled and nodded.

I got by with variations of that theme for the next couple weeks until a crisis hit my extended family. That night at our meeting, without even meaning to, I blurted out the entire story.  Then I cried.  Then I left and felt like an idiot.  The old me would never have shared this kind of info with people I was just meeting.  This new me, the one I was becoming in this place, wasn’t someone I wanted to know.  She was out of control, a complete mess and kind of a downer.

It’s taken me nearly two years to write about this experience because I still don’t like the memory. Good heavens, it was bad enough to live through once; I don’t want to have it widely known that I once broke down in public with strangers. 

Fitness instructors are fond of pointing out that your body only changes when you push past your comfortable limits.  You need to shake things up.  Work harder, work faster or try another sport if you’ve plateaued in your pursuit of the perfect weight.  We need to shatter our myths about ourselves in order to become a deeper version of who we already… Click To Tweet

Maybe the same is true for our souls.  We need to experience change—and the real, messy uncertainty that goes along with it—in order to grow.  We need to shatter our myths about ourselves in order to become a deeper version of who we already are.  We need to discover that the world doesn’t fall apart just because we do. 

I received many gifts from that MOPS group. New friends, professional contacts, interesting workshops and two amazing mentor moms. But what I remember most is that time I fell apart, with near- strangers, and was still invited back. Soul-stretched, imperfect and all wrong–but welcomed anyway.

Our Small Stories: Finding Meaning In Loss

Our Small Stories: Finding Meaning In Loss

My Grandma loved the Denver Broncos. She was five foot three inches tall with gray hair, glasses and a petite frame that she passed on to my mom. She was the classic little old lady—unless a football game was on. Then morphed into one of those crazed football guys you see in the stands. You know the ones; they usually have their shirts off and are wearing full body paint in their team’s colors.

When she got her diagnoses, she insisted she was going to live to see the millennium. And she did—barely. So this time of year always makes me a bit weepy. Between football season and the holidays, it feels like the grief is always lurking right below the surface. My grandma’s death was my first—but not my last—experience with deep, fierce loss. It was also my first—but not my last—experience with hospice.

I remember sitting with our family minister to prepare the funeral service. “Tell me about her,” he said. And we all stopped, startled by the enormity of the task. How do you cover one person’s entire life in a few brief words? How do you capture what they mean to you? “She was brilliant.” “She had a deep faith but was also a passionate seeker.” “She loved the Broncos,” someone said, which was stale on the lips. It was a silly thing to say, a way of conveying how the enormity of someone’s passions, loves and kindnesses came out when they watched a football game. “I will never see orange and blue without thinking of her,” seemed trite, even if it was true.

In the years since my grandma died, I’ve lost other family members and been through the grief process again and again. No doubt influenced by her pioneering spirit and her faith, I went into ministry. Because of this, I’ve walked with many, many people through their own losses. Now I’m the one who sits across the living room, notebook in hand, and says “tell me about her” or “what was he like?”

Every time, I am met with a familiar response, a stunned blankness as they ponder how to convey a lifetime of loves and hates into a few sentences fit for public hearing. “She loved to bake.” “She loved Christmas carols.” “He fished every weekend.” “He could braid hair better than anyone else.”

Then the family stops, always certain that these things do not matter. Someone hands me a copy of the obituary, which is usually filled with resume-type details. Jobs held, titles given, degrees earned. Those are important but what I really want to hear are the first stories. The ones people don’t think are worth telling. I want to hear about the love of knitting, the joy in gardening, the quick temper or easy smile. I want to hear these things because these are the things of life.

Here is what I’ve discovered: People will talk with pride about a loved one’s accomplishment. They will always mention how he was manager of the company, or won the BBQ contest at the county fair every year. They will talk about volunteer accomplishments, too—the years as chair of the library board or the successful fundraising campaign. In fact, these will almost always be the first things they mention. But those are just the warm-up. The real stories come later, as they remember the way the person smiled or the way they cried.

The stories that we hesitate to tell because we think they are “too small” or “unimportant” are really the stories that get at the essence of a person. When we try to measure life only by our accomplishments, we measure it by fleeting moments. But when we tell the stories of the people we loved, we begin to capture the impact that they had on us.

I know that if you asked my grandma what she wanted to be remembered for, a love of football probably wouldn’t make the list. She, like us, would mistake this for being a small thing. But when I tell my daughter about how her great- grandma loved the Broncos, I am also telling her that my grandma was passionate—and unconventional. When my sister and I reminisce about the times we spent the night at my grandma’s house and woke up to the click-clacking of the typewriter at 4:00 am, or the stacks of books that were around the house, we are also remembering how smart our grandma was, and how committed to nourishing her mind and soul even through aging and illness.

The stories don’t stop there, of course not. But they start there and we are better and wiser people for telling them. They are like little prisms that we hold up to the light. We look at them through all sorts of angles, remembering the complexity of joy and grief, remembering most of all that our lives were changed simply by having another person in them. Our very grief, our tears and our laughter as we remember those we have loved, is proof that their lives mattered. Like ripples on a pond, their many acts of love and life spread out, affecting more people that we know. And so too, we are inspired to take hold of what life we have left and live more fully into it, trusting that our lives of little stories matter too.


This is the text from a talk I gave at a hospice event two weeks ago where the topic was grief and remembrance.  It’s written in the way I write things when I’ll be speaking, so it reads a little awkwardly but I’m sharing it today because I know many of you are struggling with the bittersweet memories of someone you lost.

The hospice event was non-religious but if I was going to add anything for a religious crowd, it would be the reminder that our God is a God of stories.  No story is too small to be noticed and treasured by a God who dares to come among us as the Word made flesh.  Our lives of little stories matter.