No Resurrection Without a Death

For quite some time now I have dreamed of three things.
  1. Completing a novel and seeing it published.
  2. Spending some time in Ireland.
  3. Purchasing a home suitable to run an Air B&B.

In December, 2016 I completed my first novel. It is currently in the editing stage and I hope to submit it to a publisher for review by the end of June 2018. My other two goals have proven a bit more elusive. Last year I created a vision board in two parts – one for my trip to Ireland and the other for an Air B&B.

Vision board behind the latest manifestation crystal grid.
Inspiration at Work

Last fall I made the decision to postpone the Ireland trip until a more opportune time. In December I began searching for a house, and three weeks ago I viewed number fifty-one. I did make an offer on a cute bungalow (probably number forty-six or so), but it was rejected by the seller due to circumstances my agent was unaware of. I think fifty-some houses is more than enough, don’t you?

Continue reading “No Resurrection Without a Death”

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A Lesson in Contrast

In college, my friends and I had a saying:

You cannot begin to change until you know the opposite of what you are.

It was a reminder that the only way to learn and grow was to face the truth about yourself and then understand the way in which God was different from that. Sometime in my mid-thirties I realized that most of what I knew about success and godly character had been learned by example of what not to do or who I did not want to be like. I began to understand experientially what our college saying meant in terms of the power of contrast to teach.

As time, experience, and study have expanded my understanding of the Bible, I begin to see that the bulk of the stories it contains are pictures of God showing us what he is like often by revealing what he is not like. This particular learning tool can prove quite effective with human minds struggling to comprehend a silent and invisible God. But nuance is easily missed under a strictly literal view of the text.

For example, countless sermons have been preached on Genesis 22, the story of Abraham’s call to sacrifice Isaac. Most people, commentaries, preachers, and Christians believe that God was testing Abraham’s faith when he told him to take Isaac up on a mountain and offer his only son as a sacrifice. They believe that God provided a ram for himself that represented God one day sacrificing Jesus to appease his own wrath. But is that really what this story was designed to teach? Does God test peoples’ faith in such horrific ways? Is this same God so offended by sin that he requires a human blood sacrifice to be appeased? Hm, sounds an awful lot like the Canaanite gods to me.

2-5_abraham-sacrifice

Most (if not all) cultures contemporary to Abraham practiced blood sacrifice to appease their gods’ anger. In fact, some sort of blood sacrifice has been practiced for centuries in almost all cultures ever to exist. Here’s a decent site on the history of blood sacrifice around the world (I found the conclusions page fascinating). So when God told Abraham to kill Isaac, he was not telling him anything new. Sacrificing children (even the first-born) to the gods was commonplace in those days. In fact, everyone was doing it. To Abraham it would have been business as usual for God to demand the kind of worship that required the ultimate sacrifice of human blood. While the story began ordinarily enough, the end revealed something radically new. Abraham found a ram caught in a nearby thicket. God showed Abraham how he was unlike the gods of the surrounding nations.

Lesson #1: God does not require human blood to be appeased.

If you believe that the revelation of God’s nature to mankind has been given throughout history progressively, then this little nugget would have rocked the ancients’ overall understanding of deities in general and the God of Israel in particular. But this was just a stepping-stone to a broader understanding of what made the God of Israel different. Fast forward to the establishment of the temple cult under Moses’ leadership. Here God distinguished himself from other gods by commanding one animal sacrifice each year that would suffice for the entire nation.

Lesson #2: God does not require unlimited animal sacrifices.

The last straw can be found in ringing in the voices of the prophets. They called the nation of Israel to put a stop to ritual sacrifices altogether. According to them, the God of Israel had no need for blood at all.

Lesson #3: God does not require blood. God does not need to be appeased.

Despite this final clear message from the prophets at the close of the Old Testament, the Christian church continues to believe and teach that Jesus was the ultimate blood sacrifice for our sins. They even go so far as to say that God himself put Jesus to death as our substitute. Which brings me to why I am writing this post today.

In 2011 I wrote a blog post called Walking Through the Pieces. It went on to become my second all-time most-read page, clocking in at a whopping 1,622 lifetime views at the time of this writing. Only my Homepage/Archives have received more hits and no other post of mine comes anywhere near these numbers. Looking at the vast amount of interest in this topic has prompted me to keep digging into the story.

I have finally come to the conclusion that Genesis 15 is yet another look at what God is not like.

In the cultures contemporary to Abram, people made agreements this way: they cut animals in two and spread the pieces apart, leaving a path between them. Both parties then walked down the path and stated the terms of the covenant they were making. The pathway between the animals symbolized a vow and a curse in one: I promise to do thus and so, and may this happen to me if I do not keep my end of the bargain. The practice was quite common and would have been second nature to Abram. Problem is, Abram was asleep when the covenant was ‘cut’. He did not walk through the pieces of the animals at all.

Throughout the Old Testament it was God’s practice to reveal himself over and against the surrounding gods and cultures of the day. In Genesis 15 we find a God who does not bargain with mankind. When God says he will do something, he will do it, independent of any belief or behavior on our part. The lesson here is clear: God does what is right without requiring anything in return. He is a God of blessing not cursing, a God of grace not law and burdens. Too bad Sonny did not understand that all he need do was ask.

Today, most Evangelicals will tell you that salvation is part of a covenant with God called the gospel (good news). They say our part of the bargain is to believe that Jesus’ death paid God back for our sins because God requires a blood sacrifice. Whoever refuses to hold up our end of the covenant (believe) will be treated like those slaughtered animals and suffer an eternity in hell (at the hand of God, no less)!

What if that interpretation of the gospel story is incorrect? What if the church is as wrong about God as ol’ Sonny was? What if Jesus’ death is a picture of what God is not like? What if Rome (not God) sacrificed Jesus on the altar of their power because his message of spiritual freedom was a threat to them and the religious order they supported? What if the story of Jesus’ life and death is a picture of how we were made to live – spiritually free from guilt and shame – and not what will happen to us after we die?

What if the story of Jesus dying on a cross was never about salvation, because we don’t need salvation, because the prophets told true: GOD DOES NOT REQUIRE BLOOD OR NEED TO BE APPEASED?

The literal interpretation of the Bible has served for hundreds of years to perpetuate division, hatred, and war – our modern forms of ritual sacrifice – all in the name of religion. It is time for the world to be turned upside down again. It is time to challenge the powers that be with the nuance of a Biblical narrative that reveals a God more loving and full of grace than any of us have ever dared to imagine or hope for. A God who blesses no matter what, loves no matter what, and requires nothing in return – not even belief that he exists. A God who needs no blood to be appeased but stands in opposition to the angry gods invented by violent men to control people ruled by fear, guilt, and shame.

True change could begin to happen once we know the opposite of what we are. God grant that we be given the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the courage to face the truth.

Celebrating the Day of the Dead

I am fairly certain that I have not donned a costume for Halloween in at least 35 years. This particular celebration, while fun as a child, never really found a foothold in my heart. Add to that, in Christian circles, Halloween was disparaged as “Satan’s high holy day” – something to be avoided as avidly as cursing or reading Harry Potter.

Tonight it occurred to me that little about the rituals and celebrations of Christianity ever took hold in me either, despite spending 30+ years in that paradigm. Granted, as a child, Christmas was the most wonderful time of the year, to borrow a well-worn lyric. Certainly my parents and their tradition of Santa Claus helped (I can still remember my father peeking into my bedroom to ask if I had heard the sleigh bells – his voice was as filled with wonder as my child’s heart!), but even later on in my teen years, I remember sitting in our living room mesmerized by the glowing coals in the fireplace, while white lights twinkled between evergreen boughs laden with ornaments and tinsel. Sometimes when I think about what peace feels like, that is the picture that comes to mind.

Over the years, Christmas came to mean less and less to me – especially once I understood that December 25th was not the birthday of any deity in the flesh, much less Jesus of Nazareth. In the early 2000’s I stopped putting up a Christmas tree, and have been hard-pressed to find ways to create meaningful traditions for myself or my family ever since. Anyway, every Christian holiday is nothing more than a hijacked pagan celebration of one kind or another.

In 2006 I began what turned out to be a 10-year trek out of my Christian faith. Not that I am an atheist per se. I believe – probably stronger than I ever did as a Christian – in the absolute existence of a spiritual dimension. I am certain that death is not the end. But the job of determining whether there is a personal god out there running our universe is beyond my pay grade, the purview of religion, and better left alone by li’l ol’ me.

Perhaps because of my recent fascination with the Celts, faeries, and magic, I have gravitated most towards the old religion or what many call paganism. Admittedly, my stint in Christianity has caused me to shun any and all religious traditions, especially those who claim to know ‘the way’ or ‘the truth’. But the seasons of the year and of life are something I am familiar with. And I have always had a special affinity for the moon. That is the other strong memory I carry from my teenage years: monthly chats with the man in the moon. I had a perfect view of the moon at its full from the swing in our backyard, and I have always been able to see a face on the surface of it. In fact, I am hard-pressed to look at a full moon and not see a face.

At the same time that I find myself drawn to the cycles of the moon, I also feel a renewed sense of connectedness to the earth. I do desire to establish traditions to follow, but I am content to move slowly, listening closely to my own heart and what it whispers about the lessons, comfort, joy, or depth that a particular holiday celebration can lend my spirit. I began following the full moon cycles sometime in 2015, and this year added the new moon cycles to my monthly observances. Late in the summer, I determined to celebrate as many of the eight pagan festivals (beginning with Samhain, pronounced Sow-en) I am able to this year. October 31 marks the end of summer, the last of the harvest celebrations, and the beginning of the new year for the Celtic pagans of old. Samhain is a time to give attention to our ancestors and other loved ones who have passed. Many see it as an opportunity (perhaps even an obligation) to learn about their heritage and honor dead loved ones in some fashion. Still others believe that the veil between our world and the world of the dead is thinnest on this night, making possible communication with those who have passed.

For me, I wanted to take some time to think about how those family members who have gone on affected me while they were here. To that end, I put together a display of photographs, peppered with candles, fresh flowers, and crystals (particularly those related to the root chakra) on my buffet.

My Tree of Life Grid
My Tree of Life Grid has never held as much significance for me as it does now – a lovely reminder of my life, my roots, my heritage.

I started the process the first week of October and did not complete it until this past Friday. I took my time, and thought through the many photo choices, discovering a couple of folks whose legacy I found myself unable or unwilling to honor. They are not on display this year, but perhaps I will come to terms with them enough to include them in future.

A

Through this process, I began to think about the legacy that I want to leave behind. I even asked myself what kind of legacy would be left should I pass today.  Sometimes I wonder if the reason many of us throw our lives onto the wide screen of the internet is in hopes that something we say, do, write, or photograph will touch enough random people that our legacy may somehow live on after we pass. Perhaps it is our way of dealing with the fact that death comes to us all. We as a society have certainly invented many ways to avoid ever thinking about our own death, yet that is precisely why we remain haunted by the prospect.

My sister used to tell me that she believed when we die, there is nothing, it’s over, kaput. Nonsense, I say. Her belief created years of fearful living, but now she knows the truth. Those who are able to celebrate life understand that death is not the end, but merely the beginning of a new phase of our journey. J.R.R. Tolkien said it right well:

PIPPIN: I didn’t think it would end this way.

GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.

PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?

GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

For C.S. Lewis death was an expansion of the world of the heart. Narnia opened up into infinite possibility, like the layers of an onion peeling back in reverse. Because of him, I will forever think of death as a doorway from the barn into the open field, with mountains beckoning beyond. (The Last Battle from The Chronicles of Narnia)

Last night was the new moon, a black moon (by definition, the second new moon in 1 month). Tonight begins Samhain, the Day of the Dead, and tomorrow the Wheel will start to turn anew. The near overlap of the black moon and the beginning of a new year holds special significance for me. I have learned that new moons are a good time to set intentions for the coming months. Since this was a rare black moon so closely connected with the start of a new year, it became a time for me to consider what I would like to see in my own life in the coming months. As I reflected on my day, I realized that it was filled with exactly what I want for the coming year: meditation, healthy eating, work, writing, and loving encounters. A good omen for what is to come, I think.

Whatever your tradition, Halloween, Samhain, or All Saints Day (November 1), may you find comfort in your roots. May you come to understand the legacy your ancestors left behind. May you honor that legacy, and learn from both the victories and mistakes of those who precede you. Above all, may you find comfort in knowing who is watching over you, and who waits for the joyous reunion to come.

Blessed Samhain!

I Believe in Magic

A little piece of fiction that became the seed of my first novel.

Magic exists everywhere. Bursting up from deep within the earth, layers of rock rise up stepping into majestic peaks. Seas teem with every kind of creature, unique in both form and function. Rivers flow over hill and dale, moving with an effervescent, inexorable pulse. Skies glow in rainbow colors, displaying light in resplendent hues human eyes only imagine through the dark lens of mortality.

Magic pulses life. Plants, flowers, herbs, and trees grow from deep, immense root to delicate petal, bursting forth with palpable force. Shimmering leaves and the wind that blows them, both filled with a power unseen, dance to a tune only they perceive.

Magic envelopes mystery. Incomprehensible spirits walk the earth in corporeal form, harboring hidden power. Hungering for knowledge, yet blazing with emotions at times out of control, they seek to find Truth, discerning it through the shadowed mirror of the world.

In the twilight realm between heaven and earth, hidden from the eyes of men, a war rages among ethereal beings of pure magic. In the fight for preeminence and immortality, the King of Valkyrie discovered an advantage, not realizing he would awaken a mage who could prove to be his undoing.

Why I did NOT write a story for last week’s Friday Fictioneers

A couple of weeks back, after a conversation with my Mom about her grieving process (if you don’t know, we lost my Sister December 19, 2013), I suddenly had the strange feeling that 4+ months into this gig, I had not even begun to grieve her passing. Never mind the stuff I’ve written about her death, the talk/song I shared at her funeral service, and all of the tears already shed …

A day or so after that conversation, I ran into a wonderful blog site about grief; specifically the post dealt with grief having no expiration date. It occurred to me that being so far from her (in proximity) for so many years prior to her death along with her inability to carry on our normal phone conversations during her final couple of years combined to make it that much more difficult for me to know she’s really gone. While I have no clue what the next step in my process will be, I suspect it involves some intense ‘realization.’ Not something I’m particularly looking forward to.

On Wednesday, the following photo showed up as the Friday Fictioneers prompt (I won’t even try to explain why a Friday photo prompt shows up on Wednesdays 😉 ):

Copyright – Björn Rudberg

My gut reaction was how familiar the picture was – not that I’d seen it before, but that I saw myself in a similar photo-memory of what I now think of as my former life. The emotions that boiled up to the surface when I saw the prompt surprised me a bit. A mixture of nostalgia and excitement, fondness and regret coalesced inside me to produce one clear thought in my head: “I can’t write a story about this. Not now, not maybe ever. This isn’t fiction; it’s too *real.”

In a conversation with my son about humor I told him that for me to find something funny, it has to be true, to ring true. Fiction for me is quite the opposite. Sure, the characters have to be true – to themselves, and believable – to the reader. But the more fantastical the story, the more I am drawn to it. Maybe that’s why I prefer tales about dragons, fairies, magic, and aliens more than historical fiction (Seabiscuit notwithstanding).

As I’m sure you’ve already begun to grasp, seeing what looked like the scraps of an old life of mine reminded me again of my recent loss. It was as if writing about the picture would have been a step in the direction of dealing with my sister’s death. I don’t feel ready for that right now, for lots of reasons.

First, I’m daily faced with the raging hormones of a 15-yr. old son. Having raised 2 daughters, you’d think I’d have been up to the challenge. Whole. Different. World. I’m literally at the end of myself and my ideas about how to navigate these waters. Most days I throw up my hands and just ask God to take it. Hopefully He’s listening.

Second, there are huge financial outflows facing us right now: my husband has been renovating the upstairs of our house having been out of work for 7 months; June 1, 2014 he will restart his counseling business; my daughter is getting married in October; and I would love to find a way to block my noisy neighbor before then. Being the primary breadwinner (hubby still serves as a Reservist) can be stressful in today’s economy – especially as a woman.

Third, my parents have both had rough years health-wise. 85 and 84 respectively, my Dad and Mom continue to manage on their own, but we all lose the battle against Father Time eventually. With the recent loss of my sister, their well-being is pretty much on my mind 25 hours every day.

Sunday afternoon I did some shopping to find a dress for the wedding. I knew it was a mistake when I looked into the mirror and saw almost the exact replica of the one my sister wore to her son’s wedding:

My Sister dancing with Hubby
My Sister dancing with her Hubby

It wasn’t exact, but the color, the tiers … I said out loud to myself, “I can’t look like her.” Fortunately, it was the last of the 3 dresses I tried. I hung it up with the other disasters and promptly walked out, giving up the search for the moment. So many memories, at every turn they hit me.

I looked back at the photo prompt Sunday night, glad I had left it alone. I want to push myself to write like I want to push myself to get through the grief – I’ve never been known for my patience. I’m not ready. I’m learning to be okay with that, to give myself permission to breathe. Sometimes even that hurts too much.

*Actually, my favorite part of this video is the (probably drunken) man dancing in front of me. 😀

 

Seasons & Cycles – A Sunday Meditation

I Corinthians 2:

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written,

Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard,
And which have not entered the heart of man,
All that God has prepared for those who love Him.”

It amazes me that in just about 4 short months this:

Side Yard February 16, 2014
Side Yard
February, 2014

will to turn into this:

Side Yard June, 2013
Side Yard
June, 2013

Complete reversal. Brown to green is just a symbol, the move will be from death to life. Well, not entirely true. The Rose of Sharon has buds on the ends of the branches which you can only see upon closer examination, so even though it has the look of death, the death is not entire. And I know that underneath the ground the other plants have healthy root systems pulsing life into parts getting ready to push out new buds. I can’t see the roots, but I know from experience that they are there.

Ironically, from the moment the buds come forth to life, they will begin their journey to another winter, certain death. I’m not sure why this process fascinates me so much. Maybe it’s this life-death-life-death-life cycle that convinces me my inevitable death will not be the end. It’s as if the seasons proclaim this truth year in and year out.

Yesterday a friend shared with me something she had seen on Facebook recently:

She said she hoped that wasn’t true because the idea of doing this all over again – again and again – was horrible. I definitely agree with that! Slogging through another cycle of life to death as a human being trapped in forward linear time doesn’t appeal to me in the least.

But I took the meme a different way. Jesus compared our earthly bodies to seeds which have to die to bear new life; like a seed, our lives on earth carry the promise of a new form of life inside. What if the light we see at the end of our ‘death tunnel’ is the beginning of something entirely new? I have long believed that death is a doorway to something beyond our comprehension.

John 12:

23 And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.

Over the years I have often asked the question, “What does the acorn have in common with the oak?” If an acorn were self-aware and you could talk to it, I wonder if it would believe you that its future was the mighty oak tree. I doubt it. I wonder if Jesus had that difficulty as well. Forced to borrow from nature’s pictures, He tried to tell us over and over again that what is coming for us is beyond imagination – certainly He never even hinted at more of the same. What if our bodies here on earth are like seeds carrying a life-force we cannot now imagine – with the promise of breaking forth when the seed is dead and buried?

It’s not so fantastic when I begin to examine my garden closely.

Having lived through a markedly cold winter (for this area), I find myself appreciating spring, the sun, and warmth so much more than I have in the past. The dreary winter and my seeming inability to ever get warm served to heighten my desire for the fresh sunshine of spring and the blazing heat of summer. At the same time, as my body makes its inexorable way towards death (slower than the flowers in my side yard, to be sure, but I’m on my way none-the-less), aging heightens my desire for that something new – a rebirth that exists beyond my imagination.

What do you think is coming after death? Nothing? Everything? Or just another round of the here-and-now? I’d love to hear your thoughts on life after death. What, if anything, does nature tell you?

Words Fail

Returning from Thanksgiving break, I saw that Emily over at The Waiting had added a new writing challenge in her Remember the Time Blog Hop series.  I had missed it due to my trip East. The theme, ‘last days’ caught my eye. It was a bit uncanny, for I had just finished spending my last days with my sister. Emily’s blog about her father’s death is heart-wrenching, but it hit even harder after the week I had had. I commented that I was not yet ready to write about my own last days, but then I ran into this:

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.

– William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Shakespeare convinced me that I had to at least try to write about the last week while it was fresh. Even though I am too late to make it into the hop, I am very thankful to Emily for pushing me to begin the process. I hope my dear friend Sunny will not mind me stealing her amazing perspective on my words. Hers fit perfectly at the front of what comes next.

Even in such times that you noted below, those memories of times past that are filled with such wonder, laughter and love, I find myself thinking that even they are part of our  “..seeing in the mirror dimly..”; just a mere spark of the future sight, when what we now see seems more like we’re viewing through waxed paper and then face to face, we will have the gift of clarity and then see clearly (paraphrase).  What a blessing to have hope of the fullness when skin is no longer needed and clay makes no claims.  What clarity will be present in the Presence, even in the shadows with He Who Knows No Limits, yet chose to take on skin. On our behalf.

Sunny. Thank you for this hope that passes understanding.

May God bless you all as you share with me my last days. Note: The following is an account of my last days with my sister, not her last days on earth. She is now free from the pain and suffering of this life. Sometime around Midday EST on Thursday, December 19, she gave up the fight and began to experience what we can now only imagine: a face-to-face encounter with the Source of all life. Pure love, pure light. Boundless positive energy. I miss you, Ditty, more than I can ever express! I look forward to hearing about your adventures when next we meet.

~  ~  ~

November 25, 2013, Day 1

I had expected the smell. You know it: the familiar musty odor that pervades medical care facilities. But an unexpected sight met my eyes as my mother and I stepped into the room. My sister sat slouched in a lounge chair, head cocked to one side as if permanently askew. Her arms and legs twitched or shook uncontrollably, something I later understood was the involuntary response to the pain she was experiencing. I tentatively moved closer and spoke her name. She looked up at me sideways. I thought I detected recognition in her eyes, but her gaze immediately gave way to tears, then sobs.

If she understood our words of encouragement and comfort, she was unable to communicate it. We sat on either side of her, aching for some way to penetrate her heart with our love, even if her mind was out of reach. The occasional twitch of an arm or grimace that crossed her features unsettled me, as did the unintelligible words escaping her lips at odd moments.

Lunch arrived. Reticent to be the one holding the fork, I realized how unprepared I had been for this. I knew it was bad … I didn’t know it was this bad. Less than 5 months ago we had visited her home. Wordlessly she had taken me to the bedroom where her art supplies were stored. Several framed botanicals lay atop of the dresser. The work in those frames was but a shadow of her former talents. The tears I watched slipping down my Mother’s cheeks echoed the ones staining my heart.

November 26, 2013, Day 2

Tuesday the whole family came to visit. My sister’s tears appeared again, then ended as abruptly as they had begun. It dawned on me that seeing my once-vibrant sister in this condition was worse than heartbreaking. It just didn’t make any sense! She looked like a person who had been in a debilitating car accident involving a head injury.

How had her 57-yr. young mind & body been so completely decimated?

As we sat and talked to one another, we looked for ways to include her in the conversation. I could not stop thinking about the past 5 years of decline. It occurred to me to blame the last 18 months of cancer treatments for pushing my sister’s mind farther and farther from us. That day, leaving was harder than it had been the day before. When I had planned the trip, I had secretly hoped to find her already in God’s arms, free from suffering. Looking at her on Tuesday, I understood the prospect could take weeks – perhaps months – rather than days.

November 27, 2013, Day 3

Wednesday I tried to lighten the mood. I felt more comfortable with the situation and was encouraged by her lack of tears when we arrived. Her husband and I joked a bit and coaxed a familiar “Shu-up” from my sister’s chapped lips. How much of what we said did she understand? I doubted she remembered either of my previous visits. With her head still cocked to one side, she suddenly fixed me with a side-wise glance, and pronounced my name. My breath caught in my throat. Yes, it’s me. How can I help you? How can I reach you?? “That’s right, I’m here,” I said. “I’m not going anywhere.” But of course, I was going. Somewhere. Again I was reticent to feed her, but when I left that day, I promised myself I would sing to her before I went back home.

November 28, 2013, Day 4

On Thanksgiving Day we found her sleeping. Her previous two afternoons had been difficult, so we let her rest. God, please, let her rest, I thought.

November 29, 2013, Day 5

Things never seem to go as planned. And yet… even though I arrived a few minutes later than I had hoped, she greeted me with one of her most beautiful smiles. Alone for the first that week, I held her hand and whispered prayers against the pain. I begged for a peaceful end to her suffering. Then I turned off the television, pulled my guitar from its case, and tuned the strings. I didn’t hurry. There was no need. What place could impatience have in one so oblivious of time itself. My sister smiled contentedly, and murmured, “Yeah, yeah”.

For the next hour I sang the songs I love, while I watched her eyes shine with delight. I stared at her, hardly looking at the lead sheets I usually depended upon. I refused to miss a second of my time with her. I knew it would be gone in a blink, never to return.

My memory drifted back to days long gone … Christmas 4 years ago, surrounded by the family singing carols, while her grandchildren toddled to the music. When we struck up a lively worship tune, djembe and all, the adults began to dance too. I watched with delight as my 81-yr. old Father took my sister’s hand. They danced until they were breathless to a song neither of them knew.

Rewind further back to another Christmas … my sister distributing her intricate hand-made ornaments. Further still … my sister making perfect spoon bread. Further … a late-night excursion to a bar where she brandished her custom-made pool stick and proceeded to trounce us all. Yet further … my daughters prancing about in ballet costumes my sister had made especially for them. All the way to one of my earliest memories … my sister, seated at a drafting table, creating a pen and ink landscape using a technique called stippling. The breadth of her artistic talents will never cease to astound me! Suddenly my mind snapped back to the present. I found myself unable to reconcile the person before me with the one who lived in my memory.

On Friday I wielded the fork, the spoon, and the napkin. In that one small gesture of love for my sister I felt connected with her on a fundamental level that transcended the familiar banter that had characterized our relationship for almost as long as I could remember.

My sister’s youthful brokenness shattered my heart. I simply cannot understand it. But I know it enough to hate it. I hate that my Matron of Honor will never see any of my children walk the aisle; I hate that she will not hold her great-nieces & nephews in her arms the way that I held her infant sons; I hate that the spark in her, once blazing with creativity has gone out. I ache to talk with her about the turn my own talent has taken.

But Friday was our last day.

I miss you more than I can tell. Soon over – we will be together again!

Since I cannot reach you now and I will not be able to see you when you go, I am making you a promise: One day soon I will stop talking and even thinking about our last days together. I swear that I will not remember you this way. Instead I choose to remember the vibrant loving person, the brilliant artist, and the caring wise older sister you are.

I promise never to forget the inspiration you have been in my life.

X X X O (kisses, kisses, kisses, HUG!)

I love you bunches and bunches and tons and tons!

Your Little Sister,

C

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

2 Corinthians 4:6-10

Believing the Impossible

As has become obvious to my regular readers (if there are any of those), I have felt little inspiration to write lately. Sorry about that. Sometimes my life gets in the way. Lately it’s been my emotions. I told a friend the other day that I’ve been too angry to write. Working on that … meanwhile, I’ll blame (pre-)menopause and plow on.

Thankfully I ran across a daily prompt that inspired me to write something for the first time in what feels like a long time. WordPress, you continue to push me to keep writing even when life and my own emotions conspire to stop me. For this I am grateful.

Daily Prompt: Impossibility

by michelle w. on March 18, 2013

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – the White Queen, Alice in Wonderland.

What are the six impossible things you believe in? (If you can only manage one or two, that’s also okay.)

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1. I believe that people are people, period.

That people resemble one another at their core increases cynicism and love within me. I don’t know how two incongruous emotions can spring simultaneously from one idea, but there it is.

On the one hand, cynicism lowers my expectations of people. I’ve learned to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised when I see them at their best. I no longer expect anyone to really change over the course of a life either. Maybe that’s why when I actually do see dramatic change in someone, it is so inspiring. Because of it’s rarity and it’s unexpectedness, real change tastes that much sweeter.

People are people = +cynicism.

On the other hand, a multitude of relationships over decades of life have opened my eyes to the fact that everyone is a mess, most of the time. But knowing we’re all in this mess together enables me to give grace to others … most of the time. With some folks I have to consciously remind myself of our similarities. At the core, my selfishness is exactly the same as my bass-blasting neighbor’s, just manifested differently. This truth helps me to rein in the anger (when I remember to remind myself, that is…).

People are people = +love.

Hopefully love will conquer cynicism, but I wouldn’t count on seeing it happen in me. At least, not anytime soon.

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2. I believe that God is good.

I would love to type ‘nuf said after that statement, but unfortunately, I can’t. I’ve lived too long not to know how many different emotions and thoughts just raced through every reader’s heart and mind when they read the word, “God”; reading “God” and “good” in the same sentence has produced another slew of reactions. Here it might suffice to challenge my readers to write a blog addressing what that statement means to you (whether or not you believe it to be true). 🙂 Gauntlet thrown.

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3. I believe that people are eternal.

Something deep inside me knows that death cannot be the end. I used to have a wealth of theological arguments and Bible passages to defend this belief, all of which have become smoke and mirrors in my mind. I guess besides my affirmation of the resurrection of Jesus, I depend on the very UNsupportable notion that life after death makes sense of my world.

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of atheist blogs. Often they address morality in their writing and discuss it in the comments. The question that always arises in my mind: “If you and I are dust when we die, what possible difference could living a moral life make in the scheme of things?” Morality in a predominantly immoral, finite, godless world makes absolutely no sense to me, and yet, godless people affirm the superiority of a life given to helping/serving/loving others.

It’s all well and good to say that people should live in such a way that others are unharmed, or that love is a quality we should aspire to exemplify simply because this life is all you’ve got; but if atheists are right, then there is no basis for this assertion because there is no real reason to live that way (well, other than to avoid spending your life in prison, but then the motive for your goodness would not be goodness but the selfish motive of avoiding punishment).

I can’t help but wonder why it matters when a life is ‘cut short’ if there is no life beyond? Whether a person lives 2 years or 80, dust is the result and if there is no memory or knowledge of what that life consisted of, then nothing.really.matters. Paul said it this way [my paraphrase], “If there is no life after death, then do whatever makes you happy, for tomorrow you’re gone.” Paul agreed with me (or vice versa ;)).

Conversely, what does it matter if someone lives a moral life for 100 years if there is nothing after they die? What would it matter to be fondly remembered by people who are dust just like the person they remembered when they were living? It makes no sense.

My belief in an afterlife has absolutely nothing to do with reward or punishment (hard for most people to wrap their brain around that one, I know), but somehow what I do in this life has to matter in some way, and without a future existence it simply can’t. My desire to live to a higher standard here and now makes no sense if there is not life after death. Dust loving dust is ludicrous. Why bother?

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4. I believe that love will win in the end.

If you are limited by the world around you, and if you reject my belief #3, this dream is a hard pill to swallow. The opposite of love is all around evident. Incidents of suicide, terrorist attacks, party-driven mud-slinging, school shootings, and road rage all seem to say that evil and hatred is winning.

So I encourage you to turn your gaze within and listen to your heart. I hear the same message inside me I hear over and over again from movies to music lyrics: every voice screams, Make it RIGHT!” Our instinctive understanding that good should conquer evil explains our love for heroic stories, happy endings, and Cinderella.

In 1987 I sat inside a packed movie theater amidst dead silence watching credits roll. No one moved. Hardly anyone dared breathe. You could have heard a pin drop for probably 10 full minutes. I’ve never seen the like of it before or since.

The shock of what we had seen was too fresh, too intensely painful for disturbance. I believe the unanimous reaction was the result of devastation. We – every last one of us – experienced the excruciating shock of an UNhappy ending to a life-story dedicated to peace. It was as if our silent stillness was a collective shout: NO!” Considering there were probably a minimum of 250 people in the theater that day, representing all different ages, races, and backgrounds, all having the exact same reaction to Cry Freedom shows me that deep down we all demand love to win. It simply has to. There is no other acceptable ending to our story – to any story.

I read a book last year that pretty much confirmed what I have come to believe and at the same time gave me a brilliant new perspective on what love winning could look like. I wrote about it in this blog. It helped solidify my confidence that only everything good will ever make any sense of an everything bad world.

Ultimately, my belief that love will win is based on a simple understanding of the New Testament and what Jesus came here to do. I’ve already written about this in another blog. For me, the resurrection clinches it. Resurrection is one of the few remnants I hold onto from what I now think of as my ‘old life’ as an Evangelical. That love is more powerful than death remains the one core belief keeping me going. All of creation (including us) shouts it everyday with every sunrise. Love is going to win, damn it. It has to, and we know it.

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5. I believe that people are connected in ways we cannot now imagine.

     There’s something special and deep about connection. Why else would everyone seek it? Introvert or extrovert, farmer or business executive, president or monk, every person in the world longs for connection. I would venture to say that what makes a man a hermit is his frustrated inability to find it – a sort of giving up of the quest out of sheer exhaustion. But that does not nullify the basic desire.

     When we do connect, I think there’s way more to it than meets the eye. I remember when “Six Degrees of Separation” became popular. Yes, the world is getting ‘smaller’ in one sense – the internet enables us to connect in ways we were not able to before simply due to physical distance. But the superficial online relationships with people you neither know nor share any commonality with is really not the kind of connection I’m talking about. Have you ever wondered why some people are so able to push buttons inside you? Whether it’s the anger button or the love button, there’s a power we have over one another that I believe is wrapped up in a mystery called ‘connection.’

Sometimes I can almost see threads weaving between people, criss-crossing over one another, all tangled into an incredibly beautiful, orderly, glowing mess. I’m not even sure that I have to consciously know someone to have a connection to them. When I was a child I experienced this much more dramatically than I do now. (I think growing up hardens a lot more than the arteries … but that’s a whole other blog) There were times when I would catch someone’s eye for just a second, and think, “I know we could be friends.” It was like I recognized the complete stranger looking back at me. Even more fantastic, I could see in their eyes in that one locked moment, they saw the same thing!

Today I am amazed at how difficult it is to connect. I have addressed my theories for this in other blogs too, so suffice to say that the world has changed. We need connection more than ever, but we’ve never been so disconnected. I often lament the loss of the ‘front porch’ era. You know the time, when, without AC or TV the neighbors congregated on their front porches in hopes of a breeze, all the while catching up on the latest happenings in everyone’s life. I think I was made for earlier days. *sigh*

It’s tragic how sometimes the inability to find connection manifests itself in a mass shooting. I believe the underlying motivation behind such a deplorable act is the basic desire to touch someone, anyone, somehow, any way you can – a twisted attempt at being seen.

Perhaps if we paid better attention to the people around us who are crying out for connection, the number of tragedies like this might diminish into nonexistence. It’s very sad how easily we ‘brush each other off’, ignoring people’s attempts to be noticed. Did you catch how even the language of rejection implies physical contact – connection in it’s simplest form?

The way I can call a friend I have not seen or talked to for literally years and feel as if we picked up the conversation right where we left off displays a depth of connection that defies explanation. This astounding phenomenon I’ve experienced again and again tells me that there is more to this connection business than we imagine.

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6. I believe it is impossible to live ‘in the moment.’

     Contrary to every admonition to do so, I am telling you to give up the fight! It simply cannot be done. It is a hopeless quest for a person moving inexorably forward through linear time to ever be aware of – concurrent to being in – any given moment. Don’t believe me? Just try it, then. I challenge you to be aware of your current moment. Oops, it’s gone. Yep, just when you thought you’d grasped it, poof! It’s a dilemma, isn’t it, a quandary (I love that I found a way to use that word in a blog – quandary – a great word, don’t you think?), a pickle even. What we do have is memory of a moment passed. It might be only a micro-nano-googleplex-second in the past, but past it is.

     You can’t really anticipate moments either, engaging in some feeble attempt to grasp one just as it arrives. Have you noticed that? Oh, we plan, we worry, we watch the clock in anticipation, when, BOOM, there it is – gone! Sometimes I feel like I’m being bombarded by time, like the seconds are hitting me in the forehead as they blink by, bouncing out of reach.

     Unfortunately for me, I’m one of those people who has a hard time holding onto the moments that have passed. My childhood remains a blank slate with little snippets of memory here and there, like the cloudy, sepia photos of my grandparents in which I can’t really tell whether they are wearing expressions of happiness or despair. Names are a particularly difficult puzzle for me. Sometimes I slap the inside of my brain and shout, “PAY ATTENTION, ALREADY!!”

     I wish I knew if my attention span was the problem. I think that maybe the real truth is that my head is here, my body is here, but my heart – the me that is me – exists on some plane outside the confines of moments, seconds, minutes, and hours. Like there is some other dimension which subconsciously captures my attention making it impossible for me to be fully herenow. here and now. But that sounds more like the thought of a raving lunatic. Then again, I warned you that

what I believe is utterly impossible.

What’s Your Story?

Isn’t just looking upon this world already something of an invention? The world isn’t just the way it is, it is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story? … You want words that reflect reality? ‘Yes.’ Words that do not contradict reality.  ‘Exactly.’ … 

I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you, that will confirm what you already know, that won’t make you see higher, or further, or differently. You want a flat story, an immobile story. You want dry, yeastless factuality.

Excerpt from The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I just finished listening to the audio book, The Life of Pi. In it, Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel tells his remarkable survival story. Everyone has a survival story. In fact, everyone tells themselves a story in order to survive. Our story helps us cope. It is a way of interpreting the events of our lives, of making sense of those events, ourselves, and the people around us. It’s kind of like another way of seeing something I’ve always known was true: people interpret life’s events, others’ words, even their own actions through a belief system I call a grid. Grids are the human way of understanding the world, and we all have one – one major worldview that helps us make sense of our lives.

We begin to construct our grids at a very young age using a combination of what we are taught and how we react to the world as a result of our own individual personalities. We live in a broken, messed up world and have to learn quickly how to cope. Perhaps the person who takes his own life does so because he or she no longer possesses the tools to interpret his life in a way that makes sense.

This happened to a dear relative of mine a few years ago. He completely lost touch with reality for a couple of years. Those around him who were trying to help had many different speculations as to what was happening: a chemical imbalance in the brain, schizophrenia, mis-prescribed medications, and others. I think he just lost his ability to explain the world around him and the world inside him.

That’s the other piece I took from the book: there’s an entire universe inside each of us. Dreams, ideas, and inventions, thoughts we cannot control, habits we cannot break, feelings we cannot find a cause or an outlet for, and an overwhelming sense of loneliness. Despite our desire for connection, our propensity for community, we are still alone in the end. Who can begin to understand my story? So much chaos whirling around inside these little heads of ours. Add to that our attempts to understand the words, actions, and emotions of others and you have the definition of OVERWHELMED.

I think that’s why we compartmentalize. Our grid serves as a way to sort through the various aspects of our world into separate compartments that we find manageable. Probably the number one way we in the West understand the world around us is dualistically. The Life of Pi ‘preached’ against dualism more than any of other philosophy. From Piscine’s determination to find God through three contradictory religions (Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam), to his almost symbiotic relationship with a deadly Bengal tiger aboard a lifeboat, Yann Martel said over and over again in a hundred different ways that dualism is a poor way to deal with life’s complications. He makes it clear that even lost at sea in a lifeboat he shared with Richard Parker, there are many ways to look at life’s circumstances – not everything can be interpreted as either black or white.

In the end, we all believe the story we tell ourselves is the ‘truth’, factual, the real thing, the only story. Yann Martel makes a strong case for the question of whether or not any of us know the ‘real’ story (maybe we can’t know it), and he asks that we take note when someone we come into contact with has a story which contradicts ours. How often do we sacrifice relationship and growth in our determination to make our story ‘right’? We stubbornly hang on to our own construct – an illusion of safety – often at the expense of those around us. Maybe the problem isn’t that we believe the ‘wrong’ story, maybe it’s just that we are unwilling to truly hear anyone else’s. What if, in the end, everyone’s story is ‘wrong’ and the real point of life was learning to love in spite of it all?

2000 years ago a group of Pharisees resorted to murder to protect the story they told themselves. Throughout the centuries the church has continued to do this as if more violence is the solution to violence. Jesus showed us another way. He told a different story to the violence we use to understand and control our world. I wonder to what lengths I would go in order to protect the story that makes sense of my life? To what extent have I sacrificed relationship in my determination to be ‘right’?

Maybe this is exactly why Jesus told parables. Parables, unlike any other story, can be interpreted in so many different ways. Filled with multiple applications, they are designed to both enlighten and confuse. Maybe Jesus’ very use of the parable is proof that knowing the ‘right’ story was never the point. And maybe, just maybe, the Word of Life is the only one able to ‘correctly’ interpret each of our stories. That’s what I believe ‘judgment day’ will be all about: helping me understand my story.

In the meantime, I want to learn to listen to other peoples’ stories, fully aware that I hear through my own grid, somehow finding a way to love in spite of my misunderstanding and contradictory construct. Jesus didn’t promise that people would know Him by how right we are; He promised people would recognize Him by how well we love one another. In the end, only grace signifies, and love really will win.