Living in the Joyous Generosity of God

“When we live according to our fears and our hates, our lives become small and defensive, lacking the deep, joyous generosity of God . . . Life with God is much, much larger, shattering our little categories of control, permitting us to say that God’s purposes led us well beyond ourselves to give and to forgive, to create life we would not have imagined.” Walter Brueggeman in The Threat of Life.

To be trapped in a prison of fear and hate, is to cheat ourselves of the gift of life God has given us. God wants so much more for us than this. God wants us to find meaning and significance in our daily lives. We can never find that meaning when our hearts are filled with bitterness. The day may be beautiful on the outside,  but inside we are a simmering stew, ready to spew our frustration and our anger on the unfortunate person who crosses our path. The day God has given us to enjoy  is wasted.

I’ve found what appears from the outside to be fear and hate  is  often on the inside – pain this isn’t being dealt with honestly. We cannot hide our pain from ourselves or from others. We may think that we are succeeding quite well, but those who know us best see the telltale signs of hurt. Little things cause us to be upset easily. What we once would have let slide off us, we now internalize and become defensive about. The hurt inside us spews out in the way we speak and live with others. We hurt people we don’t intend to hurt. We say things that we did not intend to say. We find people trying to avoid us. Our cause may be just, but our approach to people may be very unjust. The apostle Paul wrote “Though I speak with the tongues of mortals and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal . . . If I give away all I have and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” I Corinthians 13:1-3)

But how hard to love, when we are hurting inside. How hard to love when we cannot or will not love ourself. How hard to love, when we are not wise enough to share our hurts and pain with our friends. God gave us each other so that we could share our journeys. There is nothing heroic about hiding the sad and painful things that are happening in our lives. We are meant to live in community with one another. Sharing our burdens is one of the ways we live with joy in the Christian life. When we choose to live according to our fears and our hates and yes . . hidden pain, our life becomes small and defensive lacking the deep joyous generosity of God. God wants more for each of us than this. God wants each of  us to know the joy of Christ’s love – both as one who receives  and one who gives.

A Collective Grief – Twenty-Seven Years of Searching for Jacob

CandleFlameI was surprised by the tears, and sense of profound grief which hit me, when I learned Jacob Wetterling’s remains had been found. Jacob, the eleven-year-old who was taken at gun point from his brother and best friend on an October night in 1989 has been in the background of life in Minnesota for twenty-seven years. I was living in a small rural town about 90 miles south of the Wetterling’s at the time Jacob was kidnapped. The story of his abduction had left us all with questions. We found inconceivable that three boys were accosted by a man with a gun, on a rural Minnesota road. That one of the boys had been taken, the others told to run, was beyond our ability to comprehend. We wondered at first if the story was true – and if true, how was this possible? Within a few months, the story of Jacob Wetterling’s disappearance was in the backdrop of Minnesota life. Emerging from time to time, was a story . . . A Reminder of a life disappeared, filled with continuing questions of how, why and who? By the end of 1989, Jacob had become the most popular boys’ name in Minnesota and would remain among the most popular five boys’ names for nearly two decades.

Through these twenty-seven years, my appreciation for Patty Wetterling, has only grown, as she took a tragic loss and turned it into a cause that would help other families. A fearless advocate, I often stumbled on an interview on local radio as I traveled to meetings, hospital calls and home visits. I came to recognize her voice as she talked about issues related to offenders, missing children, Amber alerts and always something about Jacob. Yesterday, the state was reeling, as news spread across the media, local stories first, then national news. This one lost child set off a chain of sequences which has changed the world for the better. In his disappearance, Jacob saved lives of other children.

Thinking about my sense of grief, my tears upon learning Jacob had been found, I realized that somewhere in those twenty-seven years the Wetterling family, had become part of our collective Minnesota family. Jacob became our child, our grandchild, our nephew, our brother. The Wetterling’s loss became our loss.

Patty Wetterling’s fierce mother’s love would not allow us to forget her son. News media regularly brought back the story asking for more tips and fresh leads. The hope of finding Jacob alive was ever in our hearts. As unlikely as that might be, Patty Wetterling’s work with missing children, only made it more plausible. The Wetterling’s became a symbol of what was possible. Long abducted children were found, the newly abducted rescued, parents and children reunited. You wanted, so deep in the heart, for that gift to be true for the Wetterling family.

Today, Patty Wetterling posted on the Jacob Wetterling Resource Facebook page:

“The Wetterlings are deeply grieving and are pulling our family together. We will be eager to talk to media as soon as we are able.
Everyone wants to know what they can do to help us.
Say a prayer.
Light a candle.
Be with friends.
Play with your children.
Hold Hands.
Eat ice cream.
Create joy.
Help your neighbor.
That is what will bring me comfort today.” -Patty Wetterling

Life does not always give us what we want. But, sometimes, it does give us what we need. A few days ago police were led to Jacob’s grave by a man long suspected in his disappearance. Scars, twenty-seven years in the making, were ripped off and raw grief poured out. The years of searching for Jacob are over. Along with all the questions remaining are our prayers. Prayers for healing, for joy to offset sorrow . . . Prayers for peace in finally knowing where Jacob is . . . Prayers that other lost children will be found.

When the Heart Cries

When the Heart Cries

These past weeks have brought us news of one tragedy after another. Tragedies, however they strike, leave us shattered. We ask the questions of why. We wonder how God can let such terrible things happen to people we love and care about. We wonder at the aftermath of a truck rolling into a crowd in Nice France and the devastation left behind. We worry about the country of Turkey and the consequences for an average person after an attempted coup. Closer to home, our cities are filled with unrest. A long hot summer looms ahead. Police fear for their lives after a second sniper attacks. Our system of law and justice becomes more fragile. In our personal lives heartaches rip the heart in two.

“Where is God anyway?” It comes, that question, when life deals us a bitter blow. “Why? Why didn’t God stop the drunk driver who killed my friend. . . .Or the spread of cancer in my child . . . why didn’t God make my marriage work, when I prayed so hard?” “Why did my child get mixed up in drugs?” “We loved each other, why did my spouse die so young?” Would that there were easy answers to these difficult questions. The more I experience of life, the more convinced I am that there are no easy answers to life’s griefs, disappointments, and sorrows. I am equally convinced that God cares, that God is with us in each and every tragedy, that God does not leave us comfortless. Believing that and feeling that are, of course, two entirely different situations.

My oldest son was just shy of three years old when I discovered that he was gone. In the distance I saw him riding on his little red tractor. Gathering up my 18-month-old son, I began the chase. The problem was, I was seven months’ pregnant. With the added weight of my second son, I couldn’t run faster than my older son was scooting. The best I was able to do was to keep him in sight. The race had gone on for about three blocks when I saw him heading for the freeway. There wasn’t much else to do, but put my 18-month-old son on a corner, tell him to “stay,” and with less baggage go after his brother. I remember how my younger son started to cry. I’m sure he felt that I was deserting him. What he didn’t know was how much he was in my thoughts, as I pursued his brother. He had no concept of how hard it was for me to leave him there. He didn’t understand that I didn’t want him left by himself, even for a few minutes. Nor, could he know how very worried I was about him. He didn’t know that my heart was aching for him.

What we believe in faith is that some day we will understand this life with all of its unfairness. To say that it is God’s will a child dies of cancer, a drunk driver kills someone, a marriage fails or that anyone gets messed up in drugs seems to me blasphemy. It’s equally evident that God doesn’t protect us from life’s hurts. I once heard the theologian Henri Nouwen say, “The good news of the Gospel is not that God has come to take our pain away, but that God has come to be with us in it.” The apostle Paul says it another way, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38,39)

No, I don’t have the answers for “Why.” But this I know, God sticks by us, in whatever place we find ourselves in. May that be your strength and your hope.

A Visit to Paisley Park – Seeing Prince Through the Messages of Those Who Loved Him

IMG_7319I have driven past Paisley Park for years and never realized it was the home of Prince. It stands just a few miles from the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, one of my favorite destinations. Which is how I found myself squeezing into one of the limited parking spots on May 2nd, to take a few pictures. The crowds continue to come and pay tribute to Prince. New bouquets of flowers replace those which have served their purpose and new balloons cover deflated purple ones. To walk there is to hear stories, see tears and recognize the need of people to express that in some visible way. It was a somber place to visit.

Tributes have come from many places lining the fences which surround Prince’s home and studio. Words from Germany, Holland, Australia, Tasmania along with several states are put together on one poster. A guitar is nestled in among the flowers. While I watch, a man makes a purple Prince sign out of balloons in a free spot along the extended fence. IMG_7315a Purple umbrellas are scattered among the balloons. Messages include those who knew Prince as a friend and neighbor. There are pictures from children with purple rain falling. People wrote of their love for him, his music and his talent. A ribbon is woven into the fence and shaped into a heart, with flowers at the center.
Of the more personal and touching tributes are these:
“Thank you for the gift of your music. It was a refuge during the storms of my youth, and now as a nostalgic smile in my heart . . . You were a part of me, of so many of us, and we send a piece of our hearts with you.”
“Been in my life since I was Eleven, ”
“My dad worked for twelve years for you. He said it was the best job he ever had.”
“Thanks for your music. You helped me become who I am.”
“After rain, peaks a bright rainbow against the dark gray skies. For every struggle, challenge, heartache, loss difficulty, loneliness, sadness, tears . . . A rainbow will always appear. It’s a sign of hope . . . beauty. Promise . . . enlightenment . . . life. It’s a spiritual stairway that connects us with our creator. You are missed by so many. You are loved by so many. A piece of my childhood you took with you.” IMG_7318

I have to admit that I would never count myself among Prince’s fans. But, it is hard not to see the millions of lives his music touched. Stories of Prince have circulated in Minnesota for years. This very private man would slip into clubs and sometimes, suddenly appear on set for the briefest of moments. While an investigation continues into his death, an addiction to pain killers is increasingly being revealed as a contributing factor. Meanwhile, people continue to come to leave their messages, to bring their flowers and mourn a person who brought joy to so many. On the day of Prince’s death, a rainbow stretched over his home.

Grief’s Expression

Grief’s Expression

Grief catches us unaware. A sudden and completely unexpected loss in my extended family has left us all reeling. Grief’s expression comes in waves of sadness, the inability to sing a song, misplaced resentment. There is an emotional roller coaster which spins me on a ride I never intended to get on.

Grief usually sends us backwards to other losses and other times. Memories rise from an earlier heartache we thought we had worked through, only to discover remnants that shatter our illusion of control. Last fall I co-led a grief class. I feel a need to reread the text for the class, to remind myself that sorrow has its season, but joy will also have its time. The psalmist tells us that, “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b) But how hard it is to remember, joy will come when the heart is broken and sorrow lingers far more than a single night. Grief is the unwanted guest, whose intrusion moves and rearranges life.

Revisiting previous griefs grounds us in the reality that healing is possible. Each loss has its time span. Our response to grief may be one of the most significant decisions we will make in our lives. We can close in on ourselves or we can reach outward. One direction will leave us letting go of people who care about us, the other will allow those same people an opportunity to love us with a friend’s love. There may be awkward attempts at comfort. They may say words meant to console which do the opposite. Our friends are unlikely to have perfect timing in what we need and when we need it. Still, recognizing the gesture of kindness for what it is, kindness, is important to our own souls.

As I’ve walked with people in times of grief, I’ve learned the greatest comfort I can give is in simply listening. No profound wisdom is needed. A simple ‘I’m so sorry,” means more than the perfect phrase we struggled to find. A hug can speak our love louder than words. In my personal life I keep a prayer journal, in which my own heart is poured out to God . . . who listens to everything I have to say and simply responds with love.