Long Sighs and Deep Breaths

mom and jon 1987Last Friday marked eight years since I lost my mom. As with so many significant dates since her death, the day was marked with long sighs and deep breaths. While I didn’t shed any tears, there was an ache in my being that will remain until I see her again.

On days like that, my mind is running full speed, remembering, wondering, grieving. My mind generally parks on a few memories that make their way to the top of the assortment that’s whirling around in there. That day was no different and I found myself remembering two moments that my mom and I shared in those last six months together.

The first moment was after a doctor’s appointment where a treatment plan was laid out for her. She had already received her bleak diagnosis and was doing her best to break out of her default mode of realism (some would call it pessimism) and find some bright spots and hope in the midst of the darkness.

As we drove in the back of my aunt and uncle’s mini van, I could see the fear and sadness in her eyes. I reached for her hand, grasping it and holding on, as if hope could be transferred in a squeeze or a touch. Somehow I hoped that I could muster up enough of that for the both of us.

I looked at her face and saw the tears rolling down her cheeks. As I looked at her and asked, “What?” she just told me that she was scared. Those words naturally made me clasp on a little harder, squeeze a little tighter.

I honestly don’t know what else I said in that moment, but I remember thinking to myself, “Hell yeah you’re scared! I’m with you.” Words that I would never dare to utter to my squeaky clean mom whom I had never heard swear in my life.

But I admired her honesty. I was grateful for her showing me her vulnerability at that moment. That was a marker of our family though, being transparent and not hiding what was going on inside, something that I’ve prided myself on and desperately seek to pass on to my children as well.

The other moment was after she was released from the hospital for the last time. We all knew that she would be going home to die. Family gathered around in the small living room of their Williamsburg townhouse. Any conversation was a distraction from the reality of the situation, a detour to avoid the inevitable that was staring us in our faces.

I had already begun to write my mom’s eulogy, that was my way of processing things. I needed to mentally and emotionally prepare for my goodbye with words, my own therapeutic means of dealing with what would be the greatest loss in my lifetime to that point.

In my quiet moments of reflection and writing, I had come to the realization that it wasn’t every day that mothers and sons enjoyed the kind of relationship that my mom and I did. Some might poke fun, others might laugh at the awkwardness, but I rested in the fact that what we had was special and significant.

In her weakened state, my mom had simply closed her eyes as she sat up in the loveseat of their living room. I put my face so close to hers that our noses touched and I whispered, “You know, what we have is special, Mom. Not every mother and son has this.” She just replied, “I know.” As our noses met, I rubbed mine against hers in an Eskimo kiss, something that I’ve passed on to my daughter. It’s a moment that I feel like I not only share with my daughter but also that my daughter somehow shares with her grandmother whom she never had the privilege of meeting.

After that night and that moment, very few words were exchanged between my mom and I, not for lack of desire but for lack of strength on the part of my mom.

It’s moments like these that are eternally burned into my brain.They don’t only come to mind on command but can rush in like a torrent when I least expect them. But I welcome them, maybe not as warmly as I would welcome a trusted, old friend, but I welcome them nonetheless.

Long sighs and deep breaths, even as I write. As I push towards the decade marker since her loss, my mom continues to live her legacy through me and my family. She would be proud of where I am and what I am doing. She might not agree with everything, especially some of my brash and forthright ideology and language, but she would love me just the same.

In those moments between sighs and breaths, I choose not to live into moments of “What could have been” but rather “What can be.” I choose not to lament what was missed, but instead embrace what was and press into my own moments with my family, letting what could easily be swallowed in regret be formed into memories that will last a lifetime for me and my children.

Inevitably, when I share thoughts like this, people say the usual, polite things to me. They are sorry for my loss. They are praying for me. While I appreciate all of these things, writing about these does not mean that I still haven’t gotten over this loss (although I don’t think anyone ever completely gets over a loss). Writing about it keeps the memory alive, at least it does to me. Writing about me honors the time that I had and hopes to utilize the lessons learned for the way forward.

Yes, I miss my mom, but honoring her memory is best done in embracing what is before me rather than lamenting what is behind me. One day, when I see her again, I can tell her that and I expect that she’ll just give me that knowing look and say, “That’s my boy!”

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What We Leave Behind

Last year, a family in the faith community that I was a part of lost their house in a fire. This family had experienced a significant amount of loss before the fire and it was heartbreaking to see them experience one more tragedy in their lives. It was even more heartbreaking because I stood with them watching their house burn.

It was one of those surreal moments where you scroll your social media feed and see something that stands out, kind of like “Which of these things is not like the others.” The wife had said her house was on fire. Before I knew it, I had a message from someone else confirming that it was true.

There have been multiple times in my life when I have felt completely helpless. Hearing my mom’s cancer diagnosis was one time. Knowing her treatments were done and her death was imminent was another. Standing with these friends in front of their house as it burned was another. I felt speechless and I doubted my presence there multiple times, wondering if they really wanted me there.

As the fire was brought under control, the firemen brought out personal items and it was excruciating. Family photos. Jewelry. Other items. The remnants of memories that had stood as markers were tainted. It was a hard thing to watch as it unfolded.

Last month, when news broke that Notre Dame Cathedral was burning, I had that same helpless feeling. It was hard to watch the flames uncontrollably lick the spire and roof of this centuries old cathedral, engulfing this sacred monument.

Through it all, I thought about legacy and what we leave behind. Buildings can burn, that became abundantly clear to me as I watched these buildings, but was that the limit of what was left? Memories are sometimes reliant on space, marked by some geographical location in which they took place. While those spaces and locations may change or cease to exist, the memories remain, they are imprinted within the very core of our being.

On a small scale, it begs the question to me, “What do I leave behind?” When I’m gone, returning to dust, what is left? Are there memories still burned on the minds of the people who are left? Did I make an impact, a mark, a difference?

I can’t help but think about this in the context of the Church as well. People were sad and heartbroken that Notre Dame was burning but I don’t think it was because a sacred space was gone or because they had experienced significant life change within those walls or even because hundreds of worshippers would now be forced to relocate. I think it was because a cultural icon was harmed, damaged, diminished (thankfully, not beyond repair).

When it comes to our local churches, what would happen if our buildings or meeting places were gone? What would be the evidence that we had once been there? Would we need to have pictures or a building or other tangible artifacts and remnants? Or would we find the evidence and artifacts on the hearts of the people whose lives had been changed by our presence there?

I want to be known for the difference that I have made. When I am gone, I don’t want people hanging onto only tangible things to remember. My hope and prayer is that the difference I made went far beyond the physically tangible and to the heart and soul.

Did I listen? Did I care? Did I love? Was Christ present in me? These are the questions that are significant to me, the ones that I hope can be answered in the affirmative.

What do we leave behind? My hope and prayer for myself and for the church that we are building is that what we are building goes far beyond a physical building. I hope and pray that we are helping to build a community with love, with listening, with care, and with Christ.

 

Cutting Deep

A little more than four years ago, my community was rocked when a local police officer and his wife were out for a run and the wife was hit by a car and killed. The running community reacted. A memorial run was set up. A memorial license plate was created. An organization began. A legacy was left.

Now, a little more than four years later, tragedy has struck my community again. A beloved preschool teacher was walking in her neighborhood and was hit by a car. Although she initially survived the accident, she eventually succumbed to her injuries.

Again, a community reacts and responds.

In the wake of the tragedy, I spoke to countless teachers who talked about the difficulties that have rippled through their school this year. Suicides. Attempted suicides. Sexual assaults. The list goes on. How much more could one community take, they asked?

This is what seems to happen in a tight-knit community, tragedy strikes and the impact runs deep. Part of it is because of how the various neighborhoods in the community are set up. People live there because they want to be connected to each other. People live there because they want to know their neighbors. But there’s risk in that. When we love deeply, we hurt deeply. When tragedy strikes, it cuts deep into our hearts.

This tragedy strikes my family harder than the last one. This woman was my oldest child’s preschool teacher years ago. For nine years, my three children went through that preschool. For nine years, although we didn’t have her more than one year, we were connected. She knew stories about me, from the mouth of my child, that others have probably never heard.

When news hit me about her death, I was numb. In the middle of the night following, I awoke and lay restless in my bed. Her husband. Her children. Her family. My heart ached. What more could I do other than feel their pain and pray?

In a day and age where we all seem connected yet aren’t always, the silver lining of the tragedy is that I see just how connected and tight-knit my community seems to be. I see people rallying around a family in need, a family who is hurting. I know that many people’s interest will wane as the headlines fade from the papers about the incident. Those closest to the family will journey with them for a time. The connections will remain.

My heart hurts today. Many are hurting in the aftermath of this. But I’d be hard-pressed to believe that any who are hurting regretted their connections. Tennyson said that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. We were made for connection, we were made for relationship, to avoid relationship for the sake of avoiding pain will only result in the deeper pain of loneliness.

I don’t know what more will come from this tragedy. I hope that there is more than the usual tears shed, meals delivered, flowers and cards sent, and then the resumption of normality for everyone not directly connected to the victim.

We’re going through a series during Lent at my church on slowing down. It seems incredibly relevant on so many levels as I sit here and type this. Slowing down physically. Slowing down mentally. Slowing down emotionally. We need to slow down. We move too fast, and we certainly move too fast to really grieve our losses. I know that one from experience.

Yes, pain cuts deep when we’re connected, but maybe we can slow down and ask ourselves just how this tragedy, and every tragedy that we face, experience, witness, or even hear about, will change the way that we live our lives. Will they make a difference or will we just return to the status quo as soon as the memories fade?

I choose change.

Breaking the Cycle of Fear – A Book Review

breaking the cycle of fearWhat do we do when we come face to face with our greatest fears? What do we do when those greatest fears actually come true? How do we move past the fears that grip us to a place of trust in the One who we believe holds all things together?

Maria Furlough shares her personal story in her latest book “Breaking the Cycle of Fear.” Furlough shares and gives her readers an intimate portrait of her own fear and loss when, during pregnancy, she was told that her fourth child did not have kidneys or a bladder. She was told by her doctor that her little boy would live through her entire pregnancy and once he was born would only live for a few minutes or hours.

Furlough describes her feelings, “Through my sobbing, I never felt mad at God. I never questioned his goodness or blamed him. But the fear that had gripped me for so long turned into terror, and I literally felt like I was going to die from the burden of sadness, pain, and anxiety.” Then she goes on to name her fears as she realized that if she didn’t kill them, they were going to kill her.

This book is an honest testimony of how God brought Furlough through the fears that she had experienced into a place of peace and trust. She shares so many of the Scripture verses that ministered to her. She shares prayers that she prayed. She shares the difference between pleading and praying, giving examples of both in order to distinguish the difference.

Furlough writes, “we do a vast disservice to God’s Word when we pluck out verses and have them stand alone.” Having been through my own difficulties and had people cherry pick verses to share as encouragement, I resonated with her statement. I know that she experienced the same thing in the loss of her son, which makes the comment that much more poignant to me. She points to the importance of looking at context which is such a vital part of digging into God’s Word.

The material that Furlough shares in this book has come out of her own teaching at her church. She is real. She is raw. She shares from the depths of her heart, not pulling any punches. I love the way that she ends this book, sharing the stories of those who have been impacted by her teaching to move from fear to faith, trust, and peace. She even shares her husband’s story about his own anxiety and fear.

Out of our deepest heartaches and pains can come our greatest insights and lessons if we allow God to use them. Maria Furlough has shared out of her deep heartaches and pains and has shared how God used those to change her and transform her. Every reader can benefit from those insights in order to move from fear to peace.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

God Is Still There

As I drove home from spending the day with good friends yesterday, my phone began buzzing, indicating that there was a message for me. Someone wanted to get in touch with me.

I checked the message to find that tragedy had struck my community in the loss of a young man. A message had gone out from the principal of the school alerting parents of the situation and letting them know that the school would do whatever they could in the midst of this tragedy to accommodate and care for students.

I looked in the rearview mirror at my three kids. These situations always feel close to home when I look into their eyes. My wife and I carried on our conversation, injecting questions and thoughts as we went. It was hard to wrap my head around this kind of news. When tragic news strikes, I’ve always felt like there are more questions than answers. Who? What? Where? Why?

Why?

Three simple letters that seem to be as invasive as the surgeon’s scalpel. They cut deep but unlike the scalpel, they don’t always get to the heart of the issue. There is pain. There is sorrow. There is anger. The emotions run rampant and wild as we wrestle with a new reality as it begins to set in.

Late last night, I got a text from someone struggling with the news. Words of comfort seem trite to me in times like this. Even as a man of deep faith who has experienced his own losses, the freshness and newness of loss demands something so much more than words can offer.

This morning, I was reminded of the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” The context is important here. Jesus’ friend, Lazarus, has died. His sisters insist that if Jesus had been there, he would not have died. Jesus comforts Mary and Martha with words. He tells them that their brother will rise again and reminds them that he (Jesus) is the resurrection and the life, that whoever believes in him, even though they die, will live. Then Jesus asks where his friend has been laid. When he reaches the tomb, he is greatly moved by the mourners and by the heartfelt pain of these sisters, and Jesus weeps himself.

Jesus’ response in the midst of this tragedy speaks deeply to me. He knew that he was going to heal Lazarus and raise him from the dead. He knew that death would be averted for a little while. Yet he still wept.

Sure, Jesus pointed them towards truth in the beginning, but then he simply wept with his friends. Jesus didn’t get on his soapbox and begin to preach. He said what he needed to say and then he got onto the task at hand: mourning and weeping.

To be honest, I don’t really think that we do that well. I’ve experienced it on both ends of the situation, as the one who is seeking to comfort another and as the one who is seeking to be comforted.

On the day that my father died, I had two friends with me. As I loved on my father and spoke gentle words to him, one of my friends began to weep. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t offer any words. He simply wept.

Sometimes the best thing for us to do is to simply come alongside those who are suffering and experiencing loss and not provide answers, but weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. There will be a time for asking questions and a time for seeking answers.  

The great Scottish author George MacDonald wrote, “The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.” While we weep, we are not alone. In the pain, in the tragedy, in the heartbreak, God is still there. His voice might not always seem decipherable in the loudness of death, but his presence can be felt as he weeps with us. We are not alone.

 Yes, there will be a time for questions and answers, but in the freshness of loss, the best thing that we can do is to weep alongside those who are weeping. There may be a time when the answers that we’ve arrived at are appropriate to share, but that time is not now. May we practice the presence of Jesus alongside those who are grieving and mourning.

Finding God in the Hard Times

finding god in the hard timesIf you’ve spent any time around churches that sing contemporary songs over the past several years, chances are that you’ve heard Matt and Beth Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name.” With a focus on God’s presence and provision in both the good times and the bad times, the song takes its refrain from the book of Job, the biblical account of a man who lost everything and still held on to his faith and trust in God.

 

Having both experienced difficult times in their lives, Matt and Beth Redman have written this book (previously released as “Blessed Be Your Name”). Detailing the difficulty of the circumstances that easily crowd out our thankfulness, the Redmans write, “At times, painful life circumstances seem to obstruct our view of Him and His goodness. But we have seen the form of the Lord many times before – in life and in Scripture – and know Him to be as good and as kind as He ever was.” Redman says that worship is a choice, and it’s a choice that we need to make, regardless of whether the sun is shining or if the clouds are endlessly gray.

 

The Redmans don’t shy away from engaging the subject of dealing with difficulties in life. They share of their own experiences that caused heartache in their own lives, but they also remind the reader that worship is a choice that we make always, in good times and in bad. While difficult times will come, we also need to celebrate and be thankful during the good times. Our trust in God cannot be circumstantial and based on whatever circumstance we find ourselves. We need to remember his promises and hold on to what we have seen him do in the past.

 

The reader is reminded that things won’t always turn out the way that we would like. Sometimes, our prayers for healing won’t be answered. They write, “In His infinite wisdom and kindness, God may well purpose to bring us healing. But perhaps we will have to wait awhile to see our situation changed. Or perhaps we will never be healed this side of heaven. And if we are not, God hasn’t become any less wise of merciful.” These words are reminiscent of the words of the Hebrew boys before they were cast into the fiery furnace. While they trusted God to save them, they were still willing to believe even if he did not save them.

 

The book offers a helpful reminder of the hope that we need to have in Christ as well. While others may grieve as if death is the end, Christians grieve differently. Loss is marked with hope. They write, “Outside of Christ, many a memorial service or funeral is a groping in the dark – a heavy cloud of grief with no clarity as to what lies beyond it.” The hope of the resurrection should comfort those who are in Christ. Not that it eliminates the loss and pain that is felt, but through the grieving and restoration, we need to remember that this is not the end.

 

Still, we also need to remember that God is God and we are not. There will be times when we will face difficulties without understanding, when the answers are nowhere to be found. The Redmans write, “Yes, there are some things we will never understand while we walk upon this earth. There comes a time when we simply have to submit to the mystery.” As we are reminded by the prophet Isaiah, God’s ways are not our ways, his ways are higher and we may never understand them on this side of eternity. It’s a tension with which we may need to wrestle at some point, a tension that feels uncomfortable, yet which is important for us to understand.

 

The book is composed of just five chapters. It’s not a long book or a difficult read. It seems designed to allow for the reader to quickly move through it, something which is important during the difficult times that we may face. The chapters follow some of the lines of the Redman’s song. Each chapter includes questions for reflection at the end. There is also a discussion guide for small groups included at the end of the book. These are helpful for anyone who wants to use this book as a springboard into a deeper study.

 

Having gone through some difficult times of my own and having experienced some significant losses in my life, I very much appreciate the Redmans’ book. They don’t candycoat the subject or try to over-spiritualize difficulties. They are honest and yet pointed in dealing with the subject of hard times in life. This book is a good resource and source of encouragement, a book that could easily be shared with a friend or loved on going through difficulties without feeling as if you are burdening them with a big book full of heady theology. There’s enough here to bring comfort but not so much that a grieving or struggling person will feel weighed down at the thought of reading it.

 

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bethany House Publishers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Moving On But Not Forgetting

It’s hard to believe, but yesterday marked the three year anniversary of my father’s death. I feel as if I say this every time that I pass a milestone, but in some ways it seems like it was yesterday while other ways it feels as if it’s maybe even been longer than three years. Time if funny when it comes to loss and grief.

While the loss and grief are still new, there is such a tension as to what to do and how best to handle it. How do you grieve through the remembrance? How do you recognize the day without giving it too much recognition? What happens when the day passes you by and you don’t really do anything to remember or acknowledge it?

Every time an anniversary, birthday, or other significant date comes, there is always a tension in me as to what to do and how best to handle it. Do I live into it or move past it? What’s the appropriate level of recognition for it?

When it comes, I feel that I at least have to think about it, otherwise, I feel as if I’m not honoring it. Why is that though? It’s not like those we’ve lost can tell whether or not we are recognizing the day. It’s not as if we are hurting their feelings, they don’t know the difference in how we acknowledge, or don’t acknowledge, the day.

How do we honor the day and the memory of those who we’ve lost while not getting bogged down in the emotion of the moment or feeling sorry for ourselves? How do we continue to acknowledge the loss while still realizing how important it is that we are moving forward? How do we move forward without seeming as if we’ve forgotten the person whom we’ve lost?

The first few years after I lost my parents, I felt the need to stop at the exact time that they died. It was as if I needed to take a moment to remember, acknowledge, and think about them. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t been missing them all along, it just felt necessary to me, almost as if I was obligated to do something special in that moment. It was almost as if I didn’t stop to honor the moment that I was forgetting them in some way.

The thing about grief is that it hits everyone different. Even talking through this anniversary with my brother, he had a whole lot of other things going through his mind than I did. We’ve both had a very different approach towards the loss, mine was significantly impacted by my children (in a positive way), my church community, my friends, and my wife.

On the other side of the day, life moves on. It’s essential that it moves on, after all, we can’t stop it from happening. I miss my dad. I feel that pangs inside me when I hear others talk about conversations they recently had with their dads and I just want to say to them, “Enjoy every conversation and every word,” but I’m pretty sure that they do.

Time marches on and I can’t forget. It doesn’t really matter how I acknowledge the day, it’s just a day like any other. The remembering, the rituals, whatever they may be, aren’t for anyone else but me.

Today, I might walk a little slower, ponder a little deeper, sigh a little longer. I’m grateful that God’s given me another day and I’m looking forward to the day when I see my dad again.

Love you, Dad. See you again!

The Boy Who Could

bowie aladdinI came into the world of pop music late in life. Well, late in life in comparison to many of my friends. In fact, there were two things that shaped my infatuation with music that would continue for the rest of my life.

The first was my parents’ prohibition of anything outside of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) and easy listening such as The Carpenters, Andy Williams, Percy Faith, Perry Como, and an assortment of other treasures you can find in your local Goodwill’s record collection. I just wasn’t allowed to listen to “secular” music and was even brought to one of those “Rock Talks” that were so popular in the 80’s where some “expert” stood up and went on and on about all of the popular music groups and what kind of satanic and hedonistic messages they were promoting. Sadly, I probably got my list of “What To Listen To” from that talk.

The second thing was General Music in 8th grade with Mr. O’Donnell. I didn’t actually take the class, I played trumpet in the concert band, but on the days when the band director was absent, I was fortunate enough to have Mr. O’Donnell as a substitute for my class. I had heard the stories of what they did in General Music class over and over again, so I was pleased to finally get a taste of it firsthand.

I remember the day that I walked into class and saw O’Donnell (as we affectionately called him) with the stereo out, all ready to start playing “Name That Tune.” I was so excited….until we actually started playing. I realized just how far I was from the reality of pop music when song after song was played and my ability to identify any of them was virtually non-existent. I think there was a part of me that died that day and another part that made a secret vow to never find myself so humiliated again.

Those two things really shaped the way that I see music to this day. My collection is eclectic and large. It’s hard to pin me down to a favorite style as I like a lot of stuff. Some people say that and then you find out that their so-called “eclectic” style is much more narrow than you thought. When I say “eclectic” though, I mean anything from Iron Maiden to Andy Williams, Anthrax to The Carpenters, Megadeth to Les Miserables, and everything in between.

I’m not sure the first time that I heard David Bowie. I have a feeling that he must have been named at one of those “Rock Talks” I went to during my formative years. After all, he was an androgynous spaceman who had been rumored to be bisexual, why else wouldn’t he end up on that list?

Regardless of my first hearing of him, I remember listening to “Space Oddity” and wondering about Ground Control and Major Tom. I remember hearing his collaborations with Freddy Mercury and Queen on “Under Pressure,” with Mick Jagger on “Dancing in the Streets,” and with Bing Crosby on “The Little Drummer Boy.” When I finally came to the place in my life when I heard his song “Heroes,” I’m pretty sure he had me at, “I will be king.”

While I’ve never been a huge fan of Bowie, I can say that I have appreciated his versatility and talent over the years. This past Friday, on the occasion of his 69th birthday, Bowie released his 28th studio album “Blackstar.” That’s quite a career considering he could never be fully pinned down, never lingering in any one thing for long enough for anyone to pigeon-hole him. He was constantly reinventing himself, in fact, it seems that over and over, the headlines are posthumously labeling him “The Master of Reinvention.” He understood the notion of reinvention before Madonna was even a blip on the pop culture radar screen.

As I woke to the news of Bowie’s death on Monday morning, there was a bleakness and sadness that I felt. January is a hard time for me as it marks my mom and dad’s anniversary as well as the date when we discovered that my mom had cancer. Hearing the news of Bowie’s passing from cancer reopened old wounds that never seem to close.

Over the course of the days leading up to Monday, I had been watching Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” (a blog post in and of itself) and had been feeling the heaviness and poignancy of that film, so the news of Bowie’s death fueled the fire of melancholy that had already been lit.

I think the sadness that came from knowing Bowie was gone was multi-faceted. He is a dying breed, there are not many true artists who are willing to shun public opinion to do their own thing. In these days of Auto-tune, 3 minute songs, and drippy lyrics, artists are a dying breed.

Another aspect of it is that there is something to be said about taking a chance and being willing to fail. All of us, whether we are willing to admit it or not, are too willing to play it safe, to do the thing that is comfortable and familiar rather than trying something new. Bowie is an inspiration to try something new and different, regardless of whether everyone rejects you and criticizes you. It’s a reminder to me that taking chances should be second nature to me, especially as someone who claims to follow the King of Creation who knit everything together.

David Bowie proved to the world that taking chances is worth the risk. He never seemed afraid to try something different and he was never afraid to abandon something that no longer seemed to fit. He proved himself a boy who could in the midst of a world of boys who “know that they can’t.” His artistic spirit will be missed and I can only hope that others might find that same adventurous and risky spirit in order that it might live on.

Walking On

“The hardest part of suffering is that the rest of the world keeps going like nothing has happened.”

Jenny Simmons

I was talking to a good friend the other day who recently went through a difficult time with a Christian organization for whom he worked. He was recounting the hurt that he experienced and was telling me about his new job. While he was incredibly encouraged that he found a new job, it’s not in his “wheelhouse” and it sounds like it’s going to drain him if he doesn’t find something more satisfying.

He said that one of the hardest things that he was experiencing was the fact that people just assumed that since he found another job, everything was fine.

It made me think of the grieving process and the above quote. When there is a loss or pain or hurt, it’s natural for the rest of the world to move past it once the initial shock of the situation wears off. But that same movement that happens for everyone else doesn’t happen quite as easily for those who have actually experienced the loss or pain or hurt. The world continues to turn and people’s lives go back to their own sense of normality, but loss, pain, and hurt have a way of leaving their victims to hold the fragile pieces of their lives in their hands and wonder how to piece them together again.

I’ve been through my fair share of loss, grief, and disappointment. During those times, I discovered this truth and tried my best to navigate through what have become the societal norms when it comes to coping. It seems that we don’t know how to slow down well. We don’t know how to simply sit in our pain. Worse yet, we don’t know how to sit with others in their pain either.

Be still.

 

Be still.

 

Be still.

Those are two words that seem so simple and yet our ability to not only grasp them but to put them into practice seems elusive. They’re not hard words to understand but they’re hard words to follow. How do we find time in the midst of all that we have filled our schedules with to stop and process? More practically, how do we find the balance between completely ignoring the pain and letting it overwhelm and consume us?

God is bigger than my loss. God is bigger than my pain. God is bigger than my hurt. While I believe all those things, they too are hard to actually move from simple assent to full on embrace. How do I take those statements and allow them to be more than trite and superficial advice?

We’ve got to put one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, moment by moment of each day. Like the Israelites journey through the wilderness, the path which we take seems more directed by circumstances or chaos than it is defined by order and understanding. While the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, life rarely affords us straight line paths through grief and pain and hurt.

The ones who understand this best are the ones who have experienced it the most. While there are highly empathic people on this earth, the ones who can understand this the best are the ones who have actually walked their own road, finding out for themselves that straight lines are overrated and journeys rarely go as the AAA Triptik tells us they should, especially through such unstable and unpredictable situations as grief or loss or pain.

We are created for community and we will find comfort and solace when we find others with whom we can share our experiences. We are a gift to each other and we can’t forget that we need others as much (if not more) than they need us.

We will continue to experience loss and pain and grief, that’s part of life in a broken and fallen world, but we need not experience it alone. We can help others to remind them and ourselves how important it is to let the current take you rather than fighting it. It may be a wild ride and it won’t always be fun, but when the journey is through, we will be wiser to share what we have learned with those around us.

The Road to Becoming – A Book Review

the road to becomingWhat do you do when all of your dreams, everything that you have envisioned for your life is stripped away? How do you respond when all that you are left with is a pile of ashes on the floor while you attempt to pick them up and find hope to go on? What do you do when the plans that you had made for your life seem so elusive that every time you get a taste or sniff of them they you feel that they are yanked out from right there in front of you?

From dreams under the leaves of her grandparents’ mighty Mississippi magnolia tree to the office of a music executive in Music City, Jenny Simmons followed her dream from thought to fruition. After years of doing concerts and productions that she put on with her sisters for whoever would listen, years of feeling the calling deep within her soul to follow this dream of making music because of the connection that it had to her soul, she had finally arrived…or so she thought.

Jenny Simmons saw the example that her parents had set for her and her sisters, the example that said to follow your heart, follow your dreams, follow your call, even when it takes you to impractical, hard, and unsafe places. After all, living by faith rarely comes without a price, and it rarely looks as safe as we would like it to look. So, while she learned to follow her calling, she also learned that following doesn’t come without a cost. “Turns out, following God-sized epiphanies doesn’t guarantee instant happiness, and it might even cost your own children some pain,” she writes.

Fronting the band Addison Road who was on the brink of touring with Sanctus Real in the spring of 2010, she and her band lost all their equipment and merchandise when their van and trailer were stolen to fall apart and my plans began to unravel.” Two weeks later, her daughter was born, but that birth was simply the silver lining of a very dark cloud that hovered over her for more than a year. In “The Road to Becoming,” Jenny Simmons chronicles her experience of having achieved her lifelong dream of being a successful recording artist and singer and then seeing it all wash away.

Through the loss of their own personal vehicles, the literal blowing up of a rented RV (complete with band equipment and merchandise), and the additional loss of the band’s equipment and merchandise, for a third time within a year, Simmons found herself in a place of extreme loss and suffering. “The hardest part of suffering is that the rest of the world keeps going like nothing has happened,” she wrote.

But through the loss, she began to realize that the process of loss involves so much more than just simply losing something. There is a necessary death, an embrace of grief, burial, and rebirth that needs to take place after something to painful and deep. Through the loss and through the pain, she had to remember that God still speaks, even though his voice sounds more, “like a whisper and not the roar of a hurricane.”

In the midst of loss and the desert in which she found herself, she realized that things still grow in the desert. Despite the climate in which you would expect nothing to thrive, there is beauty, there are streams in the desert along which there is life and growth. But in order for that new growth, for something new to become, it, “requires the burying of one’s selfishness.”

Simmons seems to be as much of an artist with words and images as she does with music, painting with words much the way that she paints with notes and lyrics. She is honest and raw, vulnerable and transparent, not seeking to offer answers but rather a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold through the deserts and storms. She never feigns a full understanding of the process but is open and willing to share of her own triumphs and her failures.

“The Road to Becoming” is a helpful resource for anyone who finds themselves in the desert, searching for life and meaning and wondering whether God has abandoned them. It’s a reminder that, “The end of the story isn’t dependent on the state of the dream.” Simmons doesn’t candycoat the struggles that she went through but shares in hopes that her own experience might be an encouragement to others who might have to endure the same experiences.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bakes Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)