Carrying Grief

IMG_2764Last Friday was the first Valentine’s Day since my dad died. My brother and I don’t know what Dad usually did for the big day, so we got Mom some flowers. They are pink, not red. And the card simply says, “Happy Valentine’s Day;” it does not have one of those cheesy romantic Hallmark verses that my Dad somehow managed to get away with year after year.

She cried when she saw the flowers. With my mom, there are a lot of tears. And it’s not always easy to tell the happy ones from the sad ones. I’m sure these tears were both kinds–the love for her children and the longing for her husband pooling together in the corners of her eyes and trailing down her cheeks.

And I really hate that this is all I can do–give her flowers and cards and space. Indulge her new-found passion for Jayhawk basketball, watching the games my dad can no longer watch. (The games he wouldn’t want to watch this year.) Step around the boxes that say “Go Through Later.” Make sure the books in the give-away box don’t have his odd half-printing, half-cursive, writing in the margins. Remind her that we need a monument at the grave. Some time. When she’s ready.

I have my own grief, of course. And I hold hers. Because that’s what daughters do. Or maybe that’s what pastors do. Or at least that’s what I do.

I hold the grief. I want to throw it out the window and let the hungry birds carry it away piece by broken piece. I want to dump it in the compost bin and think about it decomposing in the humid heat until it is good for growing next year’s flowers and food. I want to tuck it into a hand-made card and mail it somewhere beautiful and warm and far away.

There are so many things I want to do with this grief–mine and hers. Yet I find I am still here, holding it. Letting it soften my words and extend my patience. Examining it for clues about how to be in this world now, without Dad. Trusting it’s nudgings toward cards and flowers and small steps of love.


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On Mark Driscoll–Or How to Respond to People Who are More Wrong than you would Think a Person Could Be

This is the image I have of Jesus reading Driscoll's latest post.

This is the image I have of Jesus reading Driscoll’s latest post.

Recently my brother in Christ (cough, cough, ahemmmm), Mark Driscoll, has unleashed on the world yet another macho tirade masquerading as biblical interpretation. I’ve seen lots of buzz about this article because in it he claims that “Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist.” Them’s fightin’ words for Mennonites! And there is a lot in the article to fight about–or rather there are a lot of interpretive and theological (and chronological and sociological . . . ) errors to point out. Several people have already made attempts to do so.

Here’s my question: Is it worth it? Is it worth the time and energy it takes to process and respond to Mark Driscoll’s words? (And yes, I get the irony in writing this blog post.)

Yesterday morning my husband overheard me giving a mini-lecture to our 16-year-old son. My beloved partner is working on a PhD in education and teaches special needs students. He gently reminded me that, because of our son’s particular special needs, he does not process that kind of verbal input. That is to say, it’s a waste of my time to lecture him. “I know it doesn’t do him any good,” I said. “But it makes me feel better.”

So, from that perspective, people should feel free to refute Mark to their little hearts’ content. If it makes you feel better to reiterate why you are the reasonable grown-up and he’s acting like a self-absorbed, testosterone-infested adolescent, lecture away. If it makes you feel better to quote Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount; if it makes you feel better to explain the genre of apocalyptic writing; if it makes you feel better to point out that the “long-haired, dress-wearing” image of Jesus from paintings was around long before hippies or community colleges–by all means write a blog post. (I personally, am feeling better already.)

But I can’t imagine that Mark will read or care much about these posts. He’s too busy pointing out all the bossy women and wimpy men for Jesus to cut down with his divine sickle . . . or trample with his divine horse . . . or something.

Mark’s claims about men and women and sex and God are so over-the-top wrong and ridiculous that it’s hard to not read them. Once I succumb to the temptation to click a link to something he wrote, I just can’t stop myself from reading on to see how he will possibly say something more insane than what he’s already said. (And I’m rarely disappointed.) It’s like slowing down to look at an accident on the highway. Morbid, but a little irresistible.

Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about even giving him the time of day to read his stuff, let alone respond to it.

On the one hand, I want to believe that if we just ignore Mark Driscoll, he will go away. (Not away to the sixth level of hell with all the heretics . . . just away to a cabin in the woods somewhere without internet access or mail service.)

On the other hand, I know that too many people are pulled in by his cockiness and . . . honestly I don’t know what they are pulled in by, but I know they are pulled in. And many of those people are damaged by his teachings. People are spiritually abused. Relationships are twisted and broken. His teachings are so toxic there is a support blog for survivors of his church, Mars Hill.

So how do we respond to those who do this kind of damage in the name of Christ?

I think, I pray, that God has placed some people in Mark’s personal circle to council and teach and rebuke him; that God has granted the gift of discernment to some people who are in touch with those most likely to be pulled into Mark’s warped way of thinking; that God has given some people a large platform from which to preach spiritual and biblical truth so that Mark’s perspective is in no way considered “the Christian” perspective on the world.

And I thank God that I am none of the above people.

For my part, I think I need to give my spirit a little sabbath and heed the words in the fourth chapter of Philipians: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Which means that next time I see a link to something by Mark Driscoll, I will pray, “lead me not into temptation,” and move on.


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Story-Shaped Theology

This morning I came across this beautiful question in a sermon from Randy Newswanger:

Are my understandings of God, my understandings of healing and redemption, my understandings of community and celebration large enough to hold the specific details of your story?

I think this question is at the heart of church. We base our shared life around the Story of scripture, but there are so many more stories that we hear and live together. And each story grows and shapes and sometimes even transforms the way we understand how God works in the world. At least it should.

I worry sometimes that this whole internet thing allows us to be too selective about the stories we let ourselves hear. That the cable TV craziness means we only have to watch TV shows that validate our already-held ideas. That the church-shopping syndrome lets us ease into worship communities where we only have to listen to stories that mirror our own.

But we don’t have to be imprisoned in our comfort zones. Stories from around the world are just a mouse-click away. Or a library trip. Or maybe even a walk to the corner coffee shop.

Are my understandings of God, my understandings of healing and redemption, my understandings of community and celebration large enough to hold the specific details of your story?

I want to hold this question in my heart today. I want to listen closely to people’s stories, to listen deeply. Then, tomorrow, I want to try to do it again. If enough of us can manage enough energy and enough grace to do this more days than we don’t, I believe the church–and the world–will be transformed.

(Also, imagine how the government shutdown fiasco would have played out if congress-people and our president had listened well and allowed the stories of others to change their minds and shape their policies! But that’s a post for another time.)

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One More on Communion

So I have another story about holy space and tears and unconsumed communion bread. You can read it over on Huffington Post.

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Holy Communion

8885024392My family shared communion bread in my father’s hospice room before he died. We blessed it, broke it, and ate it. My mom caught a few medical professionals off guard by holding the loaf out to them when they came into the room to check Dad’s blood pressure or give him his medications.

But all awkwardness aside, it was a beautiful thing to share this ritual with my dad one last time. . . . Except that Dad was past eating, even something as small and perfect as a piece of holy bread. So my mom tore off a piece for him and laid it on the pillow near his mouth.

As he took his final breaths–those breaths that are ragged and uneven, those breaths that make you count the seconds between them–I imagined that small piece of Jesus’ body filtering the air. As Dad drew air into his failing body, as his lungs struggled to push air out, it flowed through the blessed and broken bread.

That bread remained there when Dad died, on the pillow next to his beloved face–small and white and still.

This final image of my father is a painful blessing. It comes unbidden each time I speak the words, “This is my body,” each time I offer the loaf to those who can still take and eat.

For me, the phrase “communion of saints” used to conjure up vague images of sparkling lights scattered out there, somewhere–kind of like stars, but less specific, less real. Now the “communion of saints” is that hospice room. Too specific. Too real.

It is the gummy bread in my mouth, the labored chewing, the effort of my tongue and throat muscles as I swallow. It is holding hands with my brother and my husband, scrunching down and twisting my head to wipe the tears on the sleeve of my sweatshirt. It is watching my mom lead this ritual as both faithful pastor and grieving wife, somehow standing strong and collapsing all at once.

It’s a painful blessing–every time there is a loaf of communion bread, I am in the hospice room with my father again. I realize that I never saw anyone take that torn-off piece of bread away. And so it will always be there, on the pillow, next to Dad. It will always be there, holy and broken and unconsumed.

Categories: Ponderings, Practices | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Fatherless Fathers’ Day

May 2004 013A few weeks ago, my Facebook pages and blog feed were abuzz with discussions about impending Mothers’ Day worship services. Most of the posts said essentially the same thing: Remember that Mothers’ Day is hard for many people. It’s hard for women who have chosen not to be mothers and women who want to be mothers but aren’t; it’s hard for people who have difficult relationships with their mothers and for people whose mothers have died. People were posting personal essays and sensitive Mothers’ Day prayers. Post after post after post about motherhood.

And now, this week before Fathers’ Day–nothing. My virtual world is surprisingly silent on the topic. But my physical world, inside my own head, it’s quite noisy.

This will be my first fatherless Fathers’ Day. That’s how I’ve been thinking of it. The first Fathers’ Day since my dad died on March 7. The first Fathers’ Day that I can’t mail a card to wherever it is he is living now. (Not to say it will be the first that I haven’t mailed a card.)

There will be no plotting with my brother about a gift. No Sunday afternoon phone call so all the kids can shout “Happy Fathers’ Day” across the line. Just silence. Or, more likely, a much less exuberant phone call to my mom.

My first fatherless Fathers’ Day.

Except it’s not. Because I have had and always will have a father. Actually, a dad. (I NEVER referred to him as “my father” until he died. What’s up with that?)

Just because my dad has died does not mean I don’t have him any more. I have him–sometimes more of him than I want, but usually just enough. The man he was has shaped who I am–who I continue to be. Changing circumstances don’t change our essence. Or, as Dad liked to say, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

So here I am. Facing this upcoming Fathers’ Day with dread and with gratitude.

Dread because I know that I will feel my grief deeply that day. I will be sad. Very sad.

Gratitude because I have a father that I miss. Not everyone can say that.

My friend’s father died several months before mine, and her grief is very different. She grieves because her father never overcame his alcoholism. Was never able to be the father or grandfather that she wanted him to be. She grieves because she never had a warm and loving relationship with him. And now that he has died, her hope for his healing–for their healing–has died with him.

And so, in the midst of mourning, I acknowledge that my particular grief–the grief of missing a wonderful father–is it’s own distinct blessing. Even as the tears flow, I continue to receive the gift of being my dad’s daughter.

New Years Eve 2003 029

Here are links to previous posts about my dad’s illness and death:

Psalm 63 Call to Worship–from the hospital
Why the Silence–includes the poem I wrote for Dad’s funeral
Praying through Grief–the doodle prayer from Dad’s hospital stay
On Living Close to Death–a Lenten sermon focusing on Jesus’ meal with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus
Holy Week–on why I am canceling Lent next year
Attending Death–my Good Friday post at Practicing Families
Living with “Desire”–and despair


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On the Cleveland Kidnappings

Yes. It is horrible that a man held three women and a child captive in his home for years.

Yes. It is almost unbelievable that neighbors, police, and even the captor’s family members knew nothing about this for so long.

Yes. These women and this child need our earnest prayers for the full healing of their bodies and the deep healing of their spirits.

No. The news reporter does not need to ask the police chief four times about the chains and ropes used to bind the women.

No. We do not need to know the details of what is inside that house. Of exactly what the women endured.

This is not an episode of CSI. These are the real lives of real people.

The only people who need to know the intimate details are the actual crime scene investigators, the judge and jury (God help them), and the family, friends, and therapists to whom the women turn for help (God give them strength).

Instead of watching another interview or reading another article about the crime, perhaps our time would be better spent getting to know our neighbors a little better. Listening to the stories of friends who have experienced their own traumas. Sending a card, or even taking a meal, to someone who is suffering right now. Nurturing–and giving thanks for–the children in our lives.

Yes. There is darkness and evil in the world.

No. Our lives are not enriched by wallowing in it.

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More (and Happier) Thoughts on Desire

As I mentioned in my last post, “desiring” is my star word for this year. The yellow glittery star is taped up in my craft room: Desiring. And the word is swelling my heart in unexpected ways as my husband and I dream about a home in the country.

We’ve talked about it for several years now–having some acreage just out of town. My husband already has chickens and raised beds with onions and sweet potatoes and tomatoes. Last year we grew sweet corn in our front yard.


I have ideas about a retreat center with a labyrinth and a craft room and walking trails and prayer gardens. (You should see my Pinterest boards!) It’s been fun to have the “some day” discussions.


And then this year, somehow, in the midst of my dad’s illness and death, “some day” turned into “Let’s go look at this house. Let’s get a real estate agent. Let’s rent a storage unit so we can get our house ready to go on the market.” (Anyone want to buy a nice 5-bedroom close to the University of Kansas?)

The shift has something to do with the fact that most of the houses around us are now rentals, which means a lot of noise and a lot of cars. It has something to do with knowing that, eventually, my now-widowed mother will move in with us. I’m sure it has something to do with my feelings of powerlessness in the wake of my dad’s death and my longing to have power over some aspect of my life.

But I think that most of this forward momentum toward moving to the country comes from allowing myself to claim my desire. With every country house we visit, I realize with more certainty that I do want to move. I long to move. And that longing, that desire, might not be selfish after all. It might just come from God.

I know my husband has this longing–like his father before him. My father-in-law died unexpectedly seven years ago after living his farm dream for only a few years. I hope my husband lives to be 100 and dies peacefully while feeding his chickens one day. But nothing is guaranteed. And if a desire is good and from God and within reach, why wait?

Except, you almost always have to wait–at least a little while. If despair is the shadow side of desire, then impatience is the annoying side. We found a near-perfect place. We put in an offer. And now we wait for the bank (it’s a short sale) to tell us if they accept our offer or not.


During my morning prayer time, I begged God to let me know TODAY about the house. (It wasn’t pretty.) God does not usually talk back to me during my prayer time–not quite so directly at least–but this morning God said, “Don’t you trust that I have a place for you?”.

Right. There is a place. And my desire for that place is good and exciting and even, maybe, holy. I can cling to my desire for a place of retreat and renewal to share with my family and others. But I have to let go of my desire to know the exact timing and place RIGHT NOW.

The call might come today or tomorrow or next week or–shudder–next month . . . The place might be the one we have the offer on or an even better place we don’t know about yet.

I’m finding that the tricky part of my star word is discerning which desires to cling to and which to release. May God grant me grace to loosen my grip.

- – - – -

*Also, packing at my house means that the book-binding equipment is put away for now. I still have eight Colored Pencil Prayer books left. Once those are gone, I will not be printing any more until we are settled in our new place. (The electronic version is always available.)

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Living with “Desire”

IMG_2358On Epiphany, fellow pastor and blogger Marci Glass was giving out star words–words to hold and ponder and listen to in the coming year.

My word is desiring. And it has woven its way through these past five months with glitters and shimmers and quavers and shouts and sighs too deep for words.

The good Christian girl–the Mennonite–in me was suspicious of this word from the beginning. Isn’t desire something that just gets us in trouble? It leads to unplanned pregnancies and obesity and credit card debt and any number of other evils.

Yet as I wrote this word out on a sparkly yellow star and rolled it around in my mind and heart, it began to shine a little. To seem less scary. To feel a bit like permission.

If “desiring” is my star word, my spiritual guide for the coming months, then surely my desiring is of God. Surely my desires are not wicked, but are God-given, grace-filled. I began to think more about what I did desire, and how my desiring was part of God’s broader desires for the world.

And then, at the end of February, my dad went into the hospital. All of my lovely, spiritually enlightened ponderings about desire were overwhelmed by the one, intense, unbearable desire that my dad be made well.

At first, this was a desire for a diagnosis. I thought that if we could just name his disease, they could make Dad better.

I was wrong.

When I got what I desired, I didn’t want it after all. Because the diagnosis was aggressive killer cell leukemia/lymphoma. It was a death sentence. And my deepest desire was for my dad to not die. For him to not be in the hospital with oxygen flowing into his nose through tubes, barely able to talk, having to call in a nurse to help every time he had to urinate.

If you have ever desired something impossible, you know how it feels. Like your soul is banging itself against a brick wall. And the wall doesn’t give. And your soul won’t stop. Every time it flings itself it just hurts worse because it’s already so battered and bruised.

Despair–that’s probably what you’d call it. I assume that Marci didn’t give anyone “despair” as their star word. Because it’s not a star. It’s a shadow–the shadow side of desire. When desire sucks you into a black hole of hopelessness.

The tendency, I think, is to save ourselves from despair by moderating desire. By trying not to want anything too much. This is certainly not a way to live life to the fullest, but it can work in staving off despair–until it doesn’t.

We fall in love. We get sick. We watch someone we love waste away. And the desire sparks and burns into despair.

Then what?

In my dad’s hospice room, there was a moment . . . When he didn’t have the energy to speak. When his breathing was labored, hollow. When we knew the disease was poisoning his whole body. When his children, wife, grandchildren were gathered around him and the Hallelujah chorus was playing. There was a moment when my deep desire shifted and I desired, for him, his release from that broken, breaking body.

A shift in desire. To desire something we don’t really want–something painful in its goodness, heart-wrenching in its holiness. Is that a form of grace?

. . .

I have more to say about the twinkling of the desire star in my life this year. Those words will come later. I need to sit with these words for awhile.

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Thoughts on Good Guys and Bad Guys

I’m disturbed by the “good guy/bad guy” rhetoric that is swirling around the gun control debates and the drone discussions and the Boston bombing investigation. It is dangerous when we buy into the lie that people can be grouped into these categories of “good” and “bad.” It is dangerous for our public policy, it is dangerous for our relationships, and it is dangerous for our spirits.

That’s basically what my Huffington Post contribution is about today. Check out: “The Good, The Bad, and the NRA.

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