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.

To Remember:

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I’m reposting this in loving memory of my friend Helen, who passed away earlier this evening. 

She is barefooted, sitting on the porch when I arrive. I’ve been trying to get over to see her for a month—ever since her birthday. She’s a blessing to me because she lets me bless and Helen and I have been doing this for a while now.

Several years ago my women’s circle adopted the women of Helen’s circle—we put their names in a basket and each one of us from the “younger” group drew out a saint’s name. Some are with us no more and some have moved away and some just never did follow-up. But Helen and I have fallen into a rhythm and I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t have Helen to write to, to think about, to surprise with a sit under the Mimosa tree.

Today I bring her a hanging basket, dripping gold and violet. When she sees me coming up the drive she says—in that grumpy way she has, “You don’t need to be wasting your money on flowers for me.”

But she surveys the petunias and gestures to a hook dangling from the porch roof.

“Put them up there, that’s a good place for them.”

I hide my smile and do as she says.

Helen and I are sitting on her porch, in the shade of the Mimosa tree and she shows me her swollen feet and talks about her latest doctor appointment. She talks about the ants on the picnic shelter around back and tells how a wasp got in the house this week too.

My mind never wanders when I’m with Helen—the way that it does all day long … wandering from one thing to another, ticking off the to-do list. There is something so precious in being with her and I always feel time pull the emergency break as the wheels of my mind comegrinding and squealing to a stop.

She is a fascinating lady and she never runs out of things to say. She once told me about a trip to Dubai she took when she was younger (I’ve never been to Dubai. I’ve never been out of the country or even out west). She also still is the chairwoman of the Community Cupboard—the local food pantry that she helped get started back in 1982. She drives across town two days a week to oversee that benevolence.

“I don’t drive anywhere except around the valley anymore,” she says, as she catches me up on Cupboard doings.

But the thing about Helen that draws me to her is how much she is who she is.

Her mind is wily and bright and she has a handful of girlfriends she likes to spend time with and if they neglect her … she gets mad. She expects to be treated like someone special. Because she is. There has been no slipping gracefully into the twilight years for this gentle lady. She likes to laugh and keep up on things and stay busy. She still talks about her husband like he is alive sometimes but there is no feeling sorry for the self in her.

We sit on the porch and the sun is moving up her swollen feet and I am sweating in jeans and long sleeves. We listen to the breeze blow through the bushes and when we are still, that’s when I hear it: the sweet song of a Meadowlark. My eyes scan the Mimosa tree, the Oaks in Betty’s yard next door and the Sycamores out back. But he doesn’t want to be seen—just wants to woo me and Helen with his lyrical whistle.

I cock my head to the side, close my eyes and listen. I can’t see him. But he’s announced his presence in the sweetest of ways.

Helen and I? We are not alone.

Where Bravery is Needed

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It was a drug-related shooting. That’s what the paper said the next day. A twenty-two year old black man, shot in broad daylight. Drug-related. As if that explained it away. As if the killing of a twenty-two year old boy could ever make sense. As if he never had dreams or hopes or ever fell in love.

We were invited to an awards luncheon that day, my co-workers and I. Our team had been nominated by one of our patients for a prestigious award from the hospital where we work. We had to travel off-campus for the banquet, so we carpooled and dined on salmon, potatoes dauphinoise, and chocolate swans. We didn’t win the award but we returned to work feeling valued and full. As we walked the block from the parking lot to the hospital, we noticed there were several police cars outside of the Emergency Room, which we must pass to get to the staff entrance. As we approached, we saw there were groups of people—all African-American—in clusters around the entryway. They were varied ages; beautiful doe-eyed women held babies on their hips, gray-haired grandmothers wept on the sidewalk, young boys stood, hunched—hands in pockets. There were so many, they spilled out onto the street, standing and peering expectantly into the glass doors of the hospital. A young man leaned up against the sturdy brick of the building, sobbing uncontrollably.

We trespassed through the scene of this tragedy, silenced by grief. I passed within a breath of that weeping young man. I wanted to wrap my mama arms around him, bear up the pain just a little. Instead, I walked silently by, climbed the steps to the second floor, closed my office door behind me, gripped the edges of my desk and let tears come.

What can be done? Children are killing children. Blind to the sanctity of life, their hearts turned to stone by too many ugly days, too soon. I walked through that grieving throng, a witness.The next day was Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. And the front page of the newspaper read, “Drug-related.”

That evening, we took our son shopping for a new pair of shoes. We were getting ready to take him back to college—he needed some winter walking shoes. We went to the mall to make a night of it. When we entered the shoe-store, my boy and his dad headed over to the brown suede, heavy-tread section and I made a beeline for four-inch heels and wedge booties.

There was one other woman in the store with me—a black woman (“I’ll be sixty-two this year,” she told me) who was surrounded by a gaggle of teens. The kids kept flocking to her and then dispersing. Finally, she and I were left alone to try on shoes. Her smile was so lovely. I could feel her goodness (“I inherited two children about ten years ago, one with special needs,” she told me). We tried on steep wedges together, discussing the dangers of walking. We laughed and she never stopped smiling. I felt like I was shopping with a sister.

What is so difficult about love? What is so exceptional about seeing beauty in someone who looks different than I?

The Triune God delights in the diversity of the three-in-one. The diversity of this world is a direct reflection of the beauty of God. Belden Lane says,”The Trinity delights in all its varied communications of itself, seeing it’s beauty replicated in every species. Each one turns God’s beauty back onto its source, sharing in the dance of desire from which everything comes.”

Lane was referring to variety in nature to make a case for more responsible ecology; but if all of nature glorifies the Creator in this way, how much more does the diversity among the cultures of human kind—those very creatures extolled as bearing the image of God?

I wish this story had a different ending. I wish I could say I wrapped my arms around that weeping young man and my embrace was welcomed. I wish I could say there haven’t been several more shootings on that same end of town. I wish I could say I asked the lovely smiling woman in the shoestore her name, took her number, or even a selfie to post on Facebook later. But life has these invisible lines we rarely inconvenience ourselves to cross over, doesn’t it? And it is inconvenient, frightening even, to enter into another’s world, to let myself be vulnerable to rejection. I know it’s much more complicated than having courage to put myself out there, but how much of the way things are might be changed by the bravery of an embrace? By taking the time to truly connect with a stranger? By letting someone know I see the Holy in them?

Maybe not much, but I want to find out. I’m praying for another chance. And for courage.

holy ground: a poem

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the blinds were drawn
when I came upon them,
lying head to toe, in his
hospital bed, his arms
wrapped around her legs

faint light of midday
eeking through slats,
steady drip of faucet
slowing down time, her
face puffy with sleep,
over fifty years of
being at his side
molding them into one.

they told me stories
about their dog, and I
showed pictures of mine;
when she told me about
her broken heart—about
the death of their son,

a flock of birds took
flight from the tree
outside the window. I
watched their silhouettes
against the closed blind,

as bird after
bird after bird lifted
itself up into
the sky.

::

*Don’t forget, friends, we’re taking a break from the playdates linkup for the remainder of December. I’ll meet you back here in January! Praying your Advent season is sweet thus far.

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Secret Ingredient

I cannot seem to get my words together today. They rise like birds from my heart and lift away, fly with the wind. Tomorrow we take Teddy back to school and I am trying not to be sentimental about it. Our time together has gone too swiftly. We won’t see him again until Thanksgiving, and all the holidays after that will loom with this joy of expectation. I know the ordinary will breathe again in between; time will stretch out without words and there will be new routines to settle into.

As I tap these words onto the screen I see how beautiful this can become, how life centered on loved ones and longing is a precious gift. I don’t know why the seasons must change for me to understand the loveliness of the now I cradle in my arms. I don’t want to forget this tender urgency, the way everything seems new.

I cannot keep him here, nor do I want to, so I spent the afternoon baking some pepperoni rolls to send with him. I’ll share this recipe later this week at Grace Table, but suffice it to say, the secret ingredient is love. It’s a sandwich immigrant miners carried with them when they descended into the dark, a savory treat that did not require refrigeration and therefore lent itself well to the lunch bucket. And it was discovered right here, in West Virginia.

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So now I send it with him, not into the dark, but to a place of light, I hope. Still, it is a place of stepping into the unknown, requiring courage, and maybe a sandwich roll filled with love.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. 

Almost Empty