Tears of Confusion

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 my older son heading for the freeway. There wasn’t much else to do, but put my 18-month-old on a corner, tell him to “stay,” and ask the UPS driver parked on the side of the road to watch  him  until I got back. Then, with less weight I went  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.

“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.

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 believe  – that even as my heart ached for my younger son with his tears of confusion, even so, God’s heart aches for each of us in ours.

On the Path to Easter

As Jesus travels through Holy Week, he is surrounded by a sea of human need. He sees heartache and sorrow, the mingled tears of humanity. He confronts evil, challenges systems, restores hope. Compassionate eyes search for those he can bring hope to. He offers the wisdom of one who knows these are to be the words his followers will remember.

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The path to Easter is a mixture of celebration and pain. Good Friday inevitably stands in the path to Easter. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. A crowd will shout its praises on Palm Sunday. The greedy and powerful are confounded when they and their trade are cast out of God’s sacred space. Healing occurs and some are blessed with restored health. One we love is betrayed by a close and trusted friend. Ugliness, the ugliness of a crowd that lets itself be swayed away from truth and into violence takes over. And the heart cries, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Whenever fear, death and darkness appear to win the day, we stand by Good Friday’s cross, asking the questions of faith. We do not have answers for most of our Good Friday questions. What we do have is One who walks with us through the Good Friday’s of life… One who stands with us when we encounter its pain and harshness… One who embraces us in the darkness of our personal Good Friday.

Easter stands forever as a reminder that God has the final word. Death is not more powerful than life. Easter comes with its joyful message! Its certain response to Good Friday’s heartache. “He Is Risen!”

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.

God Knows Our Name

A few weeks before my father entered a long term care facility, he had reached into his billfold and handed me two five-dollar bills. Then he had said, “I wish I could do more.” I was struggling financially at the time, but was taken completely by surprise at the unexpected gesture of love and concern. My father was dealing with an entirely different issue. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease six years earlier, the illness had not only affected his body, but also his mind. Ten days later I would hardly recognize him as the disease ravaged his body. It was one of the last lucid conversations I had with him. I have treasured it ever since. Whenever I try to tell someone the story, tears will spring to my eyes.

Knowing that someone cares about you can have a profound impact on a life. We do best in life, when we are surrounded by loving care. God speaks through the prophet Isaiah saying, “I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1 (NRSV)

The wonder of it all is that God not only knows our name, but claims us. Our own lives can be completely messed up. People who should care about us may be in so much distress they cannot see our need. I’ve heard too many painful stories of family stresses, parents who can’t connect to their children and spouses who have forgotten how to love. I’ve left counseling sessions bewildered by the strange way we treat people who are closest and dearest to us. I have been appalled at the lack of compassion or concern by family members when a heartache has occurred. I’ve heard stories that break my heart when I cannot comprehend how a parent can be so indifferent.

The scripture tells us that even when those who ought to be expected to care for us fail, God will never stop loving us.“Though my father and my mother forsake me, the Lord will take me into his care.” Psalm 27:10 (REV) God is one who is always near, who always cares and to whom we can always turn.

After the Celebration – Epiphany

Epiphany Wise Men Worship Background

Christmas came late for my family in 2014.   Oh there were celebrations on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but under it all was a time of waiting for the impending birth of my grandson. We walked through Christmas with a sense of anticipation and anxiety over pregnancy complications for a daughter and her baby. Then last week, a few days short of New Years, a new grandson arrived. We had both a healthy mom and a healthy baby. Who could ask for more?

I’ve felt somewhat like the magi who come late to Christmas, having followed a star for more months than a pregnancy lasts. On the journey to Bethlehem there are no angels pointing to the child of promise. No late night serenades along the journey or rushing shepherds telling everyone they meet about an incredible message filling the sky. Our magi arrived to find a toddler and his mother in a house. Though they are late, to find the child, they are overwhelmed with joy. According to Matthew this child is one who “Will save his people from their sins, a shepherd who will rule over Israel.” This child will be called “Emmanuel, God with us.” The magi’s celebration begins when others have lost their sense wonder of a night of angelic voices, and the exuberance of shepherds joy. Mary would ponder again the meaning of gifts given and wonder at the magi’s visit.

Too soon there would be a hurried flight to Egypt to protect the child. Rachel’s tears would flow in Bethlehem. Sorrow would rock David’s city. Emmanuel, God with us would carry the burden of those tears. One resurrection morning, this child would be revealed as Christ the Lord and death would lose its power.