Eulogy

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Our vacation was cut short a day, we drove a long fifteen hours in one chunk when we learned someone we love was in the ICU. We left white-sanded beaches, soft lilting waves, and sun-tilled waters to hurry home and arrive just in time to say goodbye, to weep with family and hold vigil together. We buried my father-in-law on Monday and time has taken a deep breath, creeping slowly as the things that matter most come to the forefront.

All the weeks this summer we’ve driven back and forth to the hospital and, in the end hospice, the Queen Anne’s Lace spilled over the edge of the roads we traveled, calling my name and spinning me into memories. This wildflower will forever remind me of this hard season of letting go when we held this gentle man in love.

The morning of the funeral when I walked the dog around the house I noticed the meadow behind our back yard is also stitched with Queen Anne’s Lace. When we first moved to our home, it was different—the meadow was tame. A retired couple owned the land and tended it meticulously. They kept it mowed, pristine, and often, when I would be pushing my babies on our swing set, the Mrs. would stop on her riding mower and tell me how my boys reminded her of hers.

Now the meadow is a tangled mass of trees and shrubs and Queen Anne’s Lace. It’s hard to tell what hides in all that underbrush. Somewhere in there are the apple and pear trees her little boys used to climb for sport. When I think of all that is hidden from our eyes in this visible world, it sets my heart on other things—things so precious, so mysterious—things we cannot touch or see. And I remember this: my father-in-law is free. And for this, I rejoice.

But still, I cry when I see the birds flock across the sky, the sudden lift of their wings birthing anew within me the awareness of my feet of clay—I am earthbound. Gravity holds me, but also all other things of this good earth cup my body tenderly; I move and breathe as part of entire system of things: the spiderweb, the pollen sifting through the air, the grass heavy with morning’s respiration … I am reminded that God so loved the world and when I walk through it I can feel this world he loves waiting, expectant, longing for Christ’s return. When death will lose its sting. But God so loved this world, and what we do in this life matters.

In the end, it is the little things—rocking a baby to sleep, walking together, eating together, sitting side-by-side—it is the little things that make a life. We do these things because our heart compels us to and this is how we honor the one wild and precious life—as the poet Mary Oliver calls it—this is how we honor the life we’ve been given. Yes, this life matters. My father-in-law knew this. He leaves behind a better world for having been in it. I will miss him, but I know this is not goodbye. We will meet again.

Of this I am sure.

Playdates with God: Until the Spring

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There was a soft breeze in the air on Friday morning when we buried my Aunt Effie. The wind robbed the hills of their gems, scattered them to the sky so that we drove through the wild, tumbling kaleidoscope like ticker tape; the funeral procession weaving its way through town like a parade underneath all that colorful confetti. I drove my minivan up, up, up the cemetery hill, keeping close behind my cousin Sue, who was driving my Uncle Edward and Aunt Steech. I could see their hunched figures through the window and wondered for the millionth time how it must feel to bury a sister—one you’ve known from the beginnings of you. I breathed in scent of my cousin Lori (once removed), perfumed by hugs and powdered cheeks.

Along the narrow cemetery road, oval-shaped yellow leaves were tossed and stacked, like golden coins, scattered, welcoming us to heaven’s gate. Were they beech leaves? I peered through the tangled mass of branches on the hillside and couldn’t make out the smooth gray bark, the arching branches. Who knows what kind of trees will be in heaven? I thought of how the ancients buried their beloved ones on hills—Nearer My God to Thee.

The air was heavy with moisture but the rain held off until we were again in our cars, processing back to Farmington for a family dinner. I was listening to Andrew Peterson singing “The Rain Keeps Falling” and it felt like goodbye. My Aunt Effie lived 89 years and she will always be young and strong in my mind. Funny how, when one is with the elderfamily, she becomes a little girl again.

Farmington, West Virginia gained fame in 1968 for the coal mine explosion that killed 78 men, but it’s always been famous to me as the place many of the people I love live. As a little girl I did not know about the explosion—so strong it was felt twelve miles away. I did not know how attempts were made for ten years to recover the bodies, how nineteen were unrecovered, even after all that time. All I knew was my family was there: my paternal grandpa—long widowed, so many cousins, and my Aunt Effie. Every summer we traveled those skinny roads for our family reunion, which met up in Aunt Effie’s back yard. There was no better place. The creek that wound it’s way around the adjacent hill provided endless hours of activity for me and my myriad of cousins—catching crawdads, building dams, wading far upstream and out of grown-up sight. The hills of Farmington hold the sacred in their bellies.

My Aunt Juanita shared some memories about Aunt Effie during the funeral service. She had us smiling and laughing and dabbing the corners of our eyes, but one thing she said rung true to these ears that used to be a little girl’s. She talked about Effie’s gift for hospitality. How her door was always open and her ear prepared to listen. When I think of her, I think of food. She always fed us well. She loved her family.

And she was strong, having lost her husband too early and unexpectedly. With two children still at home, she had to become the breadwinner. She also cared for my grandpa until he died at the age of 100. She was a hard worker and a gentle heart.

This week, I thanked God for the life of my Aunt Effie as I raked the leaves in our back yard. The trees in the meadow behind our house have gone wild and every fall they shed mounds and mounds of colorful chaff. There are still three large piles waiting for me to bag, but I was able to shred some to cover my sleepy garden. They’ll make a nourishing blanket until the spring brings new life, awakens new glory.

Every Monday I share one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

The winner of the Vibella bracelet is Karrilee! Congratulations, Karilee, I’ll be in touch!

Laura Boggess

A Poor–Torn Heart–A Tattered Heart

The last day of January drifts down like dandelion seeds—it’s 63 degrees in our valley when I take Lucy Mae for her evening walk. The sun bookends my day—I drove to work at her leading this morning, and as Emily says, she flowed silver to the west as I made my toil under the harsh lights of the hospital. I watch her now, gracefully bowing low with a blush.  
We cross the bridge and they are there, looming above. The cold, unforgiving place where steel meets earth.  I try not to look, but a sound echoes down from up the tracks and I wonder what they must still be doing up there and the thought wracks through me and I swallow the sob with a prayer. Look up at the sky.
When the boys came home from school today they told us about a terrible accident their bus happened upon. The kind of accident that is a mama’s worst nightmare. And it’s my old nightmare and past wounds start to bleed anew for the pain of another.
I take Teddy to his eye appointment and he can’t get the lens just right and his fists are clenched tight…I feel my whole body clench too. He doesn’t want to do this thing, but I know it’s best for him and I am having a million arguments with him in my head…when I remember.
There is a mama who won’t have her boy tonight.
And the agony of that runs through me and all I can do is pray and my patience is fresh and new. This isn’t the end of the world. And the other mamas who wait with me to see the doctor want to know…had I heard…? Do I know…?
And it feels wrong to talk this way about something so hard, something so fresh…while there is blood still on the tracks. But we mamas, we can’t help it. We need each other during these times.  And Jeff meets me so he can take the boys to music lessons and I drive home with contact lenses in my pocket.
And now the sun. Goes down again.
I no longer ask why, I know this world is broken. Am I not studying the book of James? And doesn’t he say right there to be patient in the face of suffering? To consider it pure joy?
I watch the dipping sun make silhouettes out of leaf and branch and I think how beautiful this is—this place of hiding. When I only see the shape, when I only see in shadow…how easy it is to hide. But I know that the true beauty is revealed in the fullness of the thing; in the touching and tasting and the scent. To understand…to know full beauty…I must experience the whole. When the full color flashes light there is beauty—aching, pounding, pulsing, heartbreaking beauty.
There is a promise of comfort. There is the promise of healing. But my stubborn heart is a sponge and it expands as the grief of right now collects in the pores. I mourn with those who mourn and I hear the earth cry out long in bittersweet welcome. I feel the tremble of fear. And we are all one as we mill around this fountain of sorrow.
And isn’t this the hope we hold in our hands? This: that we are never alone…That hope is what we have to give and we give it while bowed low and with trembling hands. And , as Henri Nouwen says, when we willingly enter into the sorrow we deepen the pain to a level where it can be shared. This is not the end.
This is not the end.
And it’s so hard, so frightening, to step out of shadow and full into this sorrow.

with the amazing Jen:

Show Me

I wanted to go to the community Thanksgiving service. A friend of ours was preaching and I wanted to hear. I wanted to sit in dim light with other believers and feel the cold in my bones go away for a while. I wanted to feel a part of something bigger than me, bigger than my church, bigger than the air in this space around me. I wanted to be thankful.

But I took the dogs out and Penny saw a cat in the meadow so she ran after it and so I did too and we tromped through the mud of yesterday’s rains until I carried much of the earth on the bottom of my feet. I left my shoes on the porch and took those dogs back inside and wiped Penny’s paws. She jumped up on me in gratitude—wiping what remained of her muddy jaunt all over my sweater.

And now the boys need to go to lessons and Jeff says he’ll take them. But I feel guilty, and he says, no you go to the service if you want to. He is too tired to go. I just need to rest, he says. So they leave me alone in the house. Dark comes knocking and I sit in lamplight and feel it enter me.

Forty-five minutes to the service and I am a muddy mess. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to go alone. I don’t want to feel this way. And what will I do with these dogs?—One of them in heat and wearing toddler training pants?

So I grab the old flannel shirt, wrap a scarf around my head, get rid of the dog panties, and we go walking under light-washed stars.

The cold stings my cheeks and the wet leaves on the ground shine like coins in the streetlights and everything is quiet. The creek is shimmer and I listen in the dark to water whisper over stones and hush as it plunges into deep. The sky bends down low towards me and I hold it in my arms and I know that this is Thanksgiving.

What month is it? I had asked my little brain-injury patient earlier today. He stared. There is a holiday this week, I prodded. It’s a holiday where you fix a big turkey, and you eat pumpkin pie…What holiday is it?

He just shook his head.


It’s a holiday where you give thanks, I said. You say grace…and give thanks.

Is it July? He asked.

Through the windows of my neighbors’ houses I see Christmas lights winking—trees standing in corners and bows tied around stair rails. I suck the cold into my lungs. I wonder about Advent—about the hoping and preparing and waiting…

The stars move along the horizon like some midnight train and I turn my eyes upward.

How long? I ask the stars. I think of my young patient and the older ones too. I think of tired husbands and dogs that wear diapers. The world seems to droop with weariness.

And I droop too.

Just then, the moon rises—opening the sky like a big round mouth—and swallows me in beauty…spits me back out and I’m left standing there—covered in the dew of heaven.

Teach me how to die, Lord. Show me how.

I’ve died a million deaths since the day I was born. I’m not wired to look past pain—I can’t ignore the suffering. But gently, over and over, He teaches me how to die.

Standing alone on a dark night, bathed in moonlight, tangled up in dog leashes…I give myself over to death. I die to everything I know about what is good and what is right; what is fair, what is sorrow. I die to what I want—to my expectations. I die to everything except knowing Christ. And knowing He is good.

I expect I’ll have to die again before this life is over.

Thank you. Thank you dark and tattered world. Thank you grief, compassion, sorrow. Thank you weariness and heavy heart.

You show me His strength. You lead me to Him.

Thank you.


Found

four bodies,
found
this morning.
five days
underground.
twenty-five others–
still.
only three
laid to rest

that bastard
should be shut
down
he said, fire…
no rescue
chamber can
provide escape
from
methane gas.
flash, they
call it…passes
through in a
blink
they talk of
MSHA and
unionization,
don’t close the mine,
they say. we need
jobs.
grandfather was
a miner. cousins are
too. this way
of life
is dark
we dig
through rock and
dirt
and dust,
but arms are
empty and streets
silent today.
the air I
breathe is
fresh and
sweet.
Please join me in praying for the families of the twenty-nine miners killed in the explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County on Monday. The final four bodies were found today.