Sunday, April 23, 2017

LOVE IN A BRICK


























Dedicated to the amazing VCC work team who labored 
this week on the Mirador de Jenna at Monte Olivos camp, Córdoba, Spain.


Love handled each brick
touched each stone
stirred mortar
& shoveled sand.

Affection was poured 
into buckets & wheelbarrows
troweled in cement
sponged over grout.

Endearment floated with dust
onto faces & hands
silted on skill
hazed over craftsmanship.

Mission pushed bodies
beyond fatigue & complaint
passionate teamwork 
focused in holy purpose.

Sacrifice coursed through service
consolidated into fence posts
positioned in stones
envisioned in the garden to come.

Tenderness met me
in tear, song & prayer
lingered over conversations
infused work & rest.

Worship took form
standing or kneeling
teaching or learning
directing or following.

Devotion embodied
in glistening love-sweat
in the honoring of excellence
in loving labor, in skill.

Reverence reflected
in the mess, in the weariness
beauty in blessing
& love in a brick.



How could I ever find words to express the humbling experience of watching two teachers, one retired career counselor, a personal trainer, a brilliant computer technician, a women´s ministry leader, a marriage & family therapist and a leadership consultant doing the kind of back-breaking work we just did for five days?  There was only one professional bricklayer among us! (And he had the patience of Job.)  I am incredulous at your love and sacrifice for our family project honoring Jenna and for your vision for what this place can be for all those who pass through Monte Olivos camp. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.



Photo by:  Marc Falardeau

Friday, April 14, 2017

FRIDAY TO SUNDAY'S GRIEF WALK





The walk between Good Friday and Easter Sunday has various parallels to the grief journey.  They are both of very different lengths yet there is an informal correlation to the classic stages of grief (which may or may not be everyone´s experience).  On Friday there is a passage through darkness, pain and death, followed by Saturday´s quiet loneliness, never ending questions and slowness of the passing of time and Sunday´s hope at the end.  I believe only those who choose to focus on - or at least try to be open to - Sunday´s reality and meaning will make it through their grief.

Friday is dark.  It is full of agony, pain, injustice, confusion, crowds and some bad decisions.  For the ones who loved Jesus, there were probably plenty of other tearful ones around them sharing their grief.  There were also lots of other difficult emotions like shame & guilt, confusion, anger, utter disbelief & shock.  It was not a day anyone would soon forget. It was also a day which marked forever all of His disciples; they would never again be the same.  Even history was divided by this extraordinary day.   It is a day consummate with the heaviness of grief while at the same time laden with deep meaning.

Saturday was quiet.  Most had gone to their homes Friday night.  Some of the disciples met together but the crowds were gone...everyone turning over yesterday´s events and questions in their minds.  The disappointment of those who had followed Jesus hung gloomily in the air.  They thought He would be their King!  How did everything go so very wrong?  Saturday is full of questions, anger, the rehearsing of events in their mind, loneliness, disillusionment and quiet.  Time passes very slowly on Saturday.

The classic stages (or interweaving phases) are shock/denial, anger, dialogue & bargaining, depression & detachment and acceptance.  We see these reflected in the characters´ emotions and dialogue in the gospel narrations of Christ´s death, burial and resurrection.

Those who determine to stay open to the hope of Sunday make it through their grief (not that it is ever actually over).  Without the hope and power of Sunday´s resurrection, we would live continuously in the horror of Friday´s death events or the interminable, confused waiting of Saturday.  Having a resurrection before us is our only hope!  There is only one hope in grief - that the Redeemer will somehow redeem death.

Getting from Friday to Sunday in heartbroken pain is an enormous task.  Believing for Sunday´s hope takes emotional energy and there isn´t much of that when you are trudging through continual sadness so heavy you can hardly move. But we who grieve must keep walking and waiting, day by day, step by step.  There is no other way to receive healing, to see light again, to make peace with God, to embrace hope.  

Those who have travelled through Friday and Saturday intentionally will be the ones to appreciate and treasure the power and healing of Sunday.  

May your ¨walk¨ this weekend be full of meaning.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

EVERY DAY IS OCTOBER THE 19TH





























How do you spend the anniversary of a death?  Is ¨anniversary¨ even the right word?  Isn´t that word overly celebratory being it´s in the family of birthdays, weddings and other such happy events?

Some people have asked us what we will do that day and it really touches me that they remember the date with us.  But it still doesn´t make knowing how to answer it any easier.

Others in our shoes seem to know exactly what they want to do:  go to the cemetery and lay flowers, host a commemorative event, visit the last place they saw their loved one alive or take a journal to a solitary place and grieve alone.  I respect all of these choices and have done almost all of them at some point myself.  Why do I not seem to know what to do on a date of such importance?

I was skyping with my daughter last weekend and I asked her if she had anything special she was planning for the 19th.  She said with some melancholy that it was a normal day of back to back classes at university and that she thought the best way to honor her sister was by doing what she loves - dance.  (She´s a dance major.)  She dearly misses her sister´s presence as she grows and matures as a dancer and know that this is what she would want her to keep doing.  She said she may get away another day to the beach (one of their favorite places) and journal.  Then she sighed and said, ¨After all, Mom, every day is October the 19th

That´s when it hit me!  If every day is a day that I miss her, think of her, wonder about her, grieve about her absence in our lives, what is October the 19th? If every day my heart catches at her photo, an old favorite song, a note from a friend of hers, the tenderness in a sibling´s voice recounting a memory, October the 19th is just another day of remembering this great loss.

Don´t get me wrong, the date is a significant one  - I can feel it unconsciously in my spirit approaching even if there is no calendar in front of me.  We have made it through two years without her.  We are learning - very reluctantly - to live without her.  But grieving is no respecter of calendars... grieving is day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, sometimes breath by breath.  And that´s why I now understand:  Every day is October the 19th.

I suppose that October the 19th is somehow more formal, more official.  You may grieve alone a lot of days, but that is a day when others may still remember and join you.  It weighs more than other days.  It´s written down, it´s recorded.  In history.  There was a starting point recorded for the world and now there is a stopping point recorded for all time.  She was born, she lived, she died.  She made a difference.  She mattered.  She was here. But now she is gone.  Her days on this earth were appointed by her Maker.  And October the 19th marks that point.

But not another day goes by that that empty space does not resonate poignantly in my heart. 




Photo by:  Peter

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

THE WEDDINGS





























The breathtaking bride,
The handsome groom,
The beautiful decor & environment...
The ambience of love & joy,
anticipation, waiting, the vows.
Special moments, funny moments,
tradition, contemporary, memories, spontaneity -
A holy, happy blend.
God´s hand, blessing, faithfulness.
A new beginning, a new generation.
Family...

But it´s not our girl.
It´s not our family.
And in the heart of celebration,
there are quiet tears of loss.
Tears she is absent on her dear friend´s day.
Tears she is once again a missing bridesmaid.
Tears we will never see her fall in love,
walk through that mystery with her.
Her Dad won´t walk her down the aisle
or dance the father-daughter dance they had always planned.
I won´t be by her side in a million bridal secrets,
an accomplice in decisions & delights.
Her siblings won´t watch her romance with wonder
or plan some creative & hilarious surprise for her reception.
We will never know the amazing man
God may have chosen for her.
Today it hurts.

I try to be happy, for it is another´s day!
It is not my day
And I do not want to dampen it.
But my heart is torn -
and there are tears for the beauty,
tears for the joy,
and tears for the one who is absent.




¨Even in laughter the heart may ache,
and rejoicing may end in grief.¨

Proverbs  14:13




Photo by:  Norman M.

Monday, August 15, 2016

AUGUST IS HERS







































In my mind,
August is hers.
Many, many others have an August birthday -
But to this mother,
August means Jenna.

For her first 7 years in Argentina, it was winter.
But when we came to Spain, it was glorious summer -
her favorite season!

Everything about her month was perfect -
sunny, hot, happy, carefree
Full of friends, camps & family vacation.
Late night talks & sleeping in,
The beach, her favorite juicy fruits and ice cream.

Many summers went by...
And eventually we began to be separated by oceans.
It was so hard to not celebrate her in person during those college years!
But we created ways to send love from afar.

Her last August was an indescribable gift to us.
She was feeling good.
Five of her most special international friends
Flew in to spend 10 wonderful days here together.
Her last birthday party was in our front patio-garden...
Magical and memorable.
Full of music, life, precious friends from near and far,
amazing food, the smell of intoxicating jasmine and gifts of love -
songs, dance, poems, cards, paintings.
It was all as it should be...
And she was perfectly happy.

We didn´t know it then,
But she would die 2 months to the day of her birthday -
August 19 to October 19.
We are so glad we made that day so special!
Those bittersweet two months were made up of unforgettable days -
days filled with love & tears,
pain & questions,
prayers & struggles,
waiting & wondering,
surrender.

I wonder:
Can you celebrate a birthday without the person?
Would that be weird?
How should we remember her on her day now that she´s gone?
What should that look like?

How could I not grieve August?
23 Augusts of Jenna.
23 times to celebrate her life, her day.
I celebrate her every day -
but August is different, sacred...
August is hers.

Now August is brimming with other things...
mystery, nostalgia, memories, tears.
A heart made light with the sun,
A heart made heavy with longing...

For August is still hers -
It will always be so.




The lovely photo was taken by Malaga friends and Daniela.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

WHAT'S IN A NAME?































"The name of the Lord is a strong tower.  The righteous run to it and are safe."

Proverbs 18:10

Something is bothering me.

Does it seem strange to you that in these last two very difficult years I have primarily related to God as my Shepherd?  Aspects of Him as Mighty King, Judge, High and Lofty One, Creator, Cornerstone, etc., have been difficult for me to connect to.   It's not that I don't believe these things are true of Him, it's just that I have so desperately needed certain aspects of Him during this difficult process that they have become my main lifeline to Him.  To have Him as my Comforter, Counselor, Guide and Savior has been essential to my healing.  I also have not wandered far from the Psalms in this time, finding comfort in their honesty & hope.  But I keep wondering how long this lasts...

I often struggle in worship when we sing songs about these other realms of Him.  It feels foreign, almost uncomfortable and it is somewhat upsetting to me that I can't.  If I believe He is sovereignly who He reveals Himself to be in Scripture, why is this so hard for me?

When I reflect on how His names were revealed in Scripture, though, I see human encounters with Him at points of need.  And each specific need provided an opportunity to experience Him in a certain way.  It marked their life and there was often a physical place of remembrance built to recall its significance.

When Hagar, pregnant with Ishmael, ran away from Sarai and Abram, she found herself alone in a desert.  She was in a difficult place in life and only God could have found her there, seen her need and given her direction for her - and her son's and an entire generation's - future.  She named Him "the God who sees."  (Beer Lahai Roi) (Genesis 16:14)

When less-than-confident Moses was considering God's proposal to go speak to the Pharaoh, he asked, "Who shall I say sent me?"  Did he not already know the name of his fathers' God  as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob? He did, but he seemed to need a new revelation of God to allow him to begin to fulfill his destiny.  "I AM WHO I AM," God revealed.  (Exodus 3)

After the huge victory of the Red Sea, the Israelites began their travels and it wasn't long before there were various difficulties.  After their experience of the bitter waters of Marah, God challenged them to listen carefully to Him, to obey Him and that if they did so, they would be kept from sickness and disease: "I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians."  I'm sure they still had vivid images of the post-plague-disease-ridden Egyptians in their minds!  He reveals this to them:  "I am the Lord who heals you."  (Jehovah Rapha)  (Exodus 15)  

God has created an infinite number of unique human temperaments and personalities.  I've noticed that certain ones tend to lean towards certain names of God as their primary way of relating to Him.  We also all go through many different seasons of life and find different aspects of God especially meaningful at certain times.  I'm glad God can accommodate such variety.  He Himself is so immense and complex that there could never be one name that says it all anyway! 

Maybe I shouldn't worry so much about my limited perspective right now.  Perhaps it is still a time to enjoy the Lord as my Shepherd... It is said that that is the place where "I lack nothing."  That sounds like a good place to be! (Ps. 23:1)

Besides, as Juliet said to Romeo:


"What's in a name?  That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet."



The Lord is indeed very sweet - no matter which name I choose to use.




Photo by:  Jack Dorsey



Thursday, March 31, 2016

JESUS´ SACRED GRIEF MISSION



























Did you know that part of Jesus´ sacred mission on earth was to care for the brokenhearted?  Did you know the whole ¨beauty for ashes¨ thing is for real?  There have been days I found it hard to believe  yet I have been struck lately with the prominence of verses given to this subject - particularly in this classic passage of Scripture about the Messiah´s mission:

¨The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me 
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord´s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion -
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.¨ 
Isaiah 61:1-3

I have highlighted the phrases directly related to grief within this sacred mission statement and they are about half!  This part of His healing ministry has great significance (not to take away from the others).  In fact, at the end of vs.3, it says this:

¨They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.¨ 
Isaiah 61:3

The powerful yet tender transformation required to take the ones who are broken and grieving, sad, exhausted, depressed, in darkness, unable to cope or function on certain days, angry, confused, in faith crises, with their whole life on hold and their physical health on edge is absolutely stunning.  The beauty for ashes thing is not a joke.  Nor is it a dream.  But it is impossible -  except for the Redeemer of Grief and Death, the Transformer of ashes and all that is grey.  Only He can turn all that into a beautiful, colored garland to be worn on our head where all can see it.

To take a hurting, brokenhearted person from the ash heap of death and transform them into an ¨oak of righteousness¨ is nothing short of a miracle!  The fact that these people become ¨a planting of the Lord ¨ shows that it is an intimate, personal work done by the Redeemer Himself.  The incredible end result of this redemptive work is ¨the display of His splendor.¨  Wow!  As he is transforming me in my grief process, he is using it as part of his sacred mission in this world to show Himself!  I get to be part of that!

If you are grieving, please know that the Savior is very near and very committed to helping you get to the other side.  He is for you and He shows it in these verses.  For your broken heart, there is a binding up. for your mourning, there is comfort, for your grief, there is provision, for the ashes of death there is a crown of beauty, for your mourning there is an oil of joy and for the spirit of heaviness or despair, there is a garment of praise.  Some days these may seem a million miles away...but they will come.

Beauty does rise and Jesus is on mission to provide for your grief! 



Graphic by distelfliege