Friday, January 20, 2017

A thousand thoughts

There are a thousand thoughts in my head and even more emotions as I deal with the death of my Grandma. I can't possibly articulate them all or even slow down enough to get them all down on "paper". When I write, I process (as the scrawl on my sermon notes can attest) and, as a result, it is so hard to just get it all out. Some of the thoughts that I have written about death in the past year or two come flooding back and I want to frame them more personally in the light of the peaceful death of my Grandma. I want to go to a cabin somewhere and just write until my fingers ache and until I don't have to cry anymore. 

But these days, this Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday will be filled to the brim with activity after activity that won't let me do that. I can't punch out and meditate on what just happened. I can't sit down in a creaky, straight-backed chair and pound on the keyboard as the thoughts pass through. There is no time for thinking. No time to stop. No time to just breathe and be held.

This is my lot, I know God, if it were not I would not be in the midst of all of it. 

I'll laugh and cry this weekend and into next week. I'll watch my sons as they participate in archery and basketball. I'll referee the little guys at Upwards. I'll see my brothers and sisters and their spouses and family and recall the times we had with her. I'll teach this Sunday. I'll bolt out of church to get to calling hours by 2:00 PM down in Hornell. I'll head home only to go back again the next day. I'll figure out if I am to do the first reading, second reading, or the responsorial Psalm at the funeral. Our family will stand (as tall as we are) like a wall inside of the church where the mass will be held. We'll be comforted by our common bond in Christ and remember that only time separates us from her for distance has been erased. We'll commit her body to the ground and remember that we are all but dust. I'll get my brother to the airport early Tuesday morning in time for his flight back to Wisconsin and then head back home to head out to work again. All of it will hold significant value and meaning.

And then can I breathe, God? Can I write what I need to in order to order my thoughts and process all of this? Will it be then that I can stop this feeling in the pit of my stomach? Will it be then that my brain will stop spinning and my steps will be lighter? Will it all just fade or will I treat this with the sacredness that I think that it deserves? 

I don't know. I just don't know.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Heaven's waiting...it's time to move on

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. Psalm 116:15

Forceful ageing
Help me I'm fading
Heaven's waiting
It's time to move on - Prayer for the Dying, Seal

My Grandma died yesterday. A mom, grandma, great grandma was transported into the wide-open arms of a God who, I dare say, was excited to see her. He couldn't wait to hold her and show Himself to her. The One she served and loved must have been filled with so much joy as she sat amazed gazing into His eyes. "See?" I can hear Him say, "See? You knew it was all true and you will spend an eternity here. This is My Rest. Enter it through my Son Whom you loved."

Her work here is done. Her sometimes twisted journey deep into the heart of God is complete for her faith has been swallowed by her sight and her hope is now certain. Only love remains and she can now do perfectly what she sought to do so imperfectly yet so beautifully her entire life: love the Love of her life.

Tell me Grandma. Please tell me what it is like! You haven't even been there a day, but please tell me. Is it as beautiful as you thought it would be? Oh what I would give to sit on the couch now with you in your little place where we ate pizza and Nan's mint brownies and hear everything. I want to know everything...can we sit together for hour? 15 minutes? Maybe just a minute...is that even too much?

How strong is your heart? How sure are your legs? Your eyes! Your eyes must be so bright and beautiful as you take it all in. You felt much love here, you always said that you did. But, tell me...please tell me what love you feel now. And what about Mary....is she pretty?

What will you be doing up there? What manner of work has he given to you? Will you bake? Will you make those perogies that you wished you would have just a couple of days ago? I remember the polka music playing on the radio as you moved to prepare the house for our arrival. You said it helped you get everything done. I bet you don't need it now to accomplish what He has set before you.

Grandma, thank you. Thank you for allowing Nan and I to have one last conversation with you as you peacefully folded yourself into the arms of your Savior. Thank you for the smile and even the laughter on Monday that I will never forget. Thank you for loving Nan and my boys the way you did. Thank you for the grace you gave us when our visits were not as frequent as even we would have liked them to be. Thank you for serving Christ until your death. And thank you for the laughter. Oh the laughter.

I can't wait to hear you laugh again.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Their today, yesterday, and next week


And so it was. 

The Summer before their Senior year burst onto them as they sought to make it a memorable one together. The pool party was packed with the Juniors looking forward to their last trip through the halls of the school as the sun beat down. Most were swimming while a few exposed their less tanned undersides to the darkening rays. The music blared from the boomboxes coordinated to 92.5 WMJQ much to many's dismay. However, the two of them were lost in the moment as everyone who wanted to lined up on the springboard that jutted into the in-ground pool.

I might as well jump...go ahead and jump...forget it an jump...

And with each mention of the word jump a body would be flung into the air trying to avoid the last one that hit the water. It was all rather chaotic and the unbridled laughter and excitement made more than a few sides and stomachs ache from taking in the scene. They knew that these days would end soon enough, but it seemed so far into the future that they chose not to sully their minds with the thoughts of their future past. Today. Today was what they had and today...today would be their tomorrow and next week.

Mark grabbed some lemonade and brought it to her. "Here," he offered as she reclined on the chair. She moved her feet over slightly to give him a place to sit as they talked. "Do you need anything else?"
"No," she smiled. "Let's just stay here for a bit. Together." she answered less shyly than she would have even two days prior.
"You know, I am looking forward to the retreat at the end of the Summer," he continued knowing that she would be there as well.
"Really? Me too," she acknowledged. "Why are you so interested in it?"
"I just get the sense that there is more than this. I mean, my parents, our teachers, have told me so much about Jesus and I just think, well, I know there is so much more than stories about him and all of this," he replied slightly motioning to the scene.
"There is, I mean, there's gotta be. Right?" she said. "Let's promise that we'll talk more about Him together OK? I mean, it seems like it's more..He is more than what a lot of people let on."
"I promise. Even if no one else does, we'll do this. Together."
Mark felt a deepening connection to Nan as they went so deep, so briefly deep. Of course with everyone around them they knew their private conversation wouldn't last long. "You're too dry," Jeff laughed looking straight at Mark. "You're going in."
Mark tried to run but it was no use as he was tossed into the pool. When he resurfaced slightly gasping for air he noticed that Nan had jumped in after him. She put his arms around his neck and laughed.
"You gotta love those idiots," she giggled and laughed some more.
"Oh yeah," Mark agreed and though for a brief instant how much he was going to miss this when he was older.

But this day was more that today for him. It was his yesterday and he convinced himself, again, that it would also be his forever.

Friday, September 9, 2016

That which brings us together

“I can’t bring myself to think that Trump will be in charge. In the simplest terms, what brings us together is good, and what separates us is bad.” Brad Pitt on the prospects of a Donald Trump Presidency

Believe it or not, this is not a post on who you should vote for this year come November. I read this quote and thought to myself that Mr. Pitt can't literally mean this. As someone who is a Christ-follower, I cannot endorse this definition of "good" and I think that, if he gave this a little more thought, he would not continue to offer this either.

Now there is a lot about Christ that is unifying (reconciling) and the heart of the Gospel is the unity that we have re-found through Christ with God himself. This unity was lost in the Garden way back in Genesis 3 so much so that I was, at one time, an enemy of God. Christ brought me near to God through the work he finished on the cross and in his resurrection from the dead. He died for my sins so that I would not have to die for my own sins and face eternal separation from God in Hell. In that sense unity is more than good. It is very good.

But in another sense, Christ himself said that he came to bring division and in that very same chapter in Genesis I see that this unity with God would be brought about through conflict. Conflict divides and, in this case, the serpent (Satan and his offspring) would be in conflict with the eventual offspring of Eve (Christ and his offspring). This conflict persists to this day so much so that a deep down, unifying friendship with Satan is considered to be something that will separate me from God in this life and in the next.

So in some sense I want separation, and in another I want unity. This is where Mr. Pitt's definition of that which is "good" breaks down. It breaks down hard because he could seek to be unified with those that, he has determined, are seeking to split the country. If he allied himself with Mr. Trump he would find plenty of unity within that sphere, but he would, as he sees it, be part and parcel with those who seek to divide. On the other hand, in seeking separation from that movement he thinks that this will lead to unity in the country as a whole. He would rather be divided from Mr. Trump's followers much like I, as a Christ-follower, would seek separation from Satan.

So, I guess, all of this to say that a definition of "good" would, more properly, be that which is grounded in the character and nature of God himself. If God says that separation from this thing or that is a good then that division is good and I need to pursue it. On the flip side, God also says that unifying myself with certain things is good so I need to run after that as well. All of this springs from who he is and what he is like. 

Thanks be to God that Christ came to show us the Father. And he did that so remarkably.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Laughter through the warm rain


The family reunion was much more tolerable with her there as they strode the creek bed seemingly oblivious to the approaching clouds. They talked and planned that warm Spring day wondering what the Summer would bring them as they prepared for their Senior year. There were still tests to take and the Spring concert loomed large with the solos that the two of them had to prepare for. Their burdens seemed halved by the support they were to each other and the full weekends that they could spend together doing homework and going out alone and with their friends. They were an item in the school for sure. Not overly popular and not normally shunned they seemed to have found their place even if they rather didn't care what others thought. They could chalk the negative comments, more often than they should perhaps, up to jealousy or outright envy. 

Thankfully they weren't more than a few hundred yards from the main pavilion when it happened. A cloudburst of warm rain tumbled from the darkening sky sending them running. My did they run. Hand in hand they ran to try to minimize the effect of the heavy drops on their clothes and hair. 

The rest of the clan huddled under the shelter as the rain poured down, rolled off of the roof and cascaded with a thump to the ground. It was a deluge and the reunion attendees looked at each other in some semblance of disbelief wondering how long it would last. Well, everyone except him and her of course. It barely mattered that their hair was flattened by the diamond rain as they had run as quickly as they could through the cloudburst. Breathing heavily they found a dry seat near the edge of the shelter and laughed. 

My did they laugh.

She shivered and the best he could offer her was a damp blanket that had made it out of the downpour. He covered her shoulders as the breeze picked up sending a little more rain to where they sat. The drips from their noses did nothing to extinguish the currency of the day they were spending together. This was no ordinary day. She was no ordinary girl. He wasn't the only one who thought so as his family was quickly enamored with her.

But no one knew her like he did. And he was in love with what he saw. 

My was he ever in love with her.

The humble God revisited

I was watching a video the other day of a thinker that, once you got past his mannerisms, talked about the moment that God the Father turned away from God the Son. Now that is a profound mystery and I don't ever expect to understand it all (even in heaven). It reiterated to me how unique Christianity is among the belief systems of the world in that it is the only one which has the humiliation of its God as a central tenant. There is not a more loving God than the one revealed to us in the religion of Christ.

Then I got to thinking about the claims of deity that Christ made in the New Testament. Clearly the fact that the Messiah would be God in the flesh was foretold by the prophets in the Old Testament, but Christ came right out and said it in the Gospels. Now there had been people claiming to be God far earlier than Christ and there have been people since that have done that. But there is a difference I see in those people when compared to him.

Christ's claims to deity were not intended to make much of him so that he could be celebrated and paraded through the Jerusalem streets. Rather they were made to show the great love that God the Father has for us. And nowhere was this love more pronounced than in the fact that he humbled himself so much so that he became subject to everything that we experience here on this planet in our flesh.

He is God, but where is his house? He is God, but why is he hungry? He is God, but why is he sleeping? He is God, but why is Satan tempting him so? He is God, but why does he need to learn to obey his Father? He is God, but why does he cry? 

He is God, but why is he dying?

You are God, but why are you here? Why do you look like me?

I see a great and profound humility in Christ's claims to the divine nature. A claim that, maybe, he was reticent to make. If it weren't the truth why would he even want to reveal that? It is so audacious; so embarrassing.

I see his meekness in this claim. I see his eyes of love as he acknowledges who he is. But most of all I see him running after me yet again. Why God? Do you really want me that much? Why do you chase after me? Haven't I done enough damage to your Name?

Chase me, Lord. Chase me still. I need you to find me again today. No one knows that more than You.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The moment


He was a little late getting to the dance as the car that he had depended on being there was absconded by his older brother for some reason. He had to hoof it from his house to the school gym (a 20 minute walk at the most) and he had not been nearly as ready as he could have been to account for the delay. He rather relished the walk as it helped him clear his head. He past the bleachers at Barnard Exempts that he had sat on numerous nights listening to his Astral Voyage album. He walked past the gas station where his brother and he would score a big gulp usually after a tennis match and the Olympia restaurant that he had always meant to check out one of these days. Cutting through the Maiden Lanes bowling alley parking lot he passed the smokers by the gate that separated Chase-Pitkin and the school property. He sniffed his shirt and was pleased that his journey through the smoke did not linger on him.

Ascending the stairs he handed in his ticket and saw that the gym was rather packed that night. The decorations shimmered and his friends were, more or less, waiting for him on the other side of the makeshift dance floor past the punch and cookies. It was rather dark (by design) and he noticed Nan in the gaggle of girls waiting their turn to be asked. Joining his friends one of them punched him on the shoulder.
"I just lost a buck in a bet that you chickened out," Pat snarled with a smile.
"Why would I do that?" Mark laughed. "You have such little faith in me."
"Yeah well the night is young," Lee added. "You have plenty of time to disappoint us."
Mark ignored the slight. "So, who have you all danced with?" 
They looked at the ground rather ashamed that they were a bit too focused on themselves to ask anyone. "Has anyone danced with Nan yet?" Mark asked pointedly.
"No, well, maybe...actually we don't know," Scott admitted.
"You guys are pathetic," Mark laughed. "Seriously?"

Their sheepish grins betrayed their lack of attention to the fairer sex. As the disco ball (how did they get that up there?) cast its lights around the room the DJ said that he was going to slow things down with a song from Foreigner. As "I've Been Waiting for a Girl Like You" played Mark's heart raced. He needed to make the first move.

He turned his back on his friends (they weren't much help anyway) and looked directly at Nan. She was looking directly at him! Perhaps a bit more shyly than he was but she was showing that she was interested. He cautiously strode through the couples just beginning their embraces and held out his hand toward her. Not a word was exchanged as her eyes beamed wide. He hoped that the smile on his face wasn't too creepy as to turn her off. As she took his hand they made their way to the dance floor and shared what was the first dance of the evening for either of them.

Were there a million eyes on them? Mark couldn't tell nor did he care as hers were the only ones that mattered. His courage was handsomely rewarded as they wordlessly swayed to the music. She pulled him a bit closer and he relished the gesture. His heart about to burst he wondered if she could feel his pulse through his neck. When the song was over Mark mumbled a "thank you" intending to leave her presence and tell his friends that was how it was done. Simply, Nan gazed directly into his eyes, flashed a small smile, and said

"Don't go."

And they danced.