March 23 | Grief

Grief

How appropriate that today’s word is ‘grief.’ I took a little hiatus from my daily posts (but not from Bible reading) because life got a little topsy-turvy after my grandmother died two weeks ago today. I went to Illinois for the funeral and time with family and then when I got back, we had family from my husband’s side visit for the week. They left this morning, so before I travel out to Seattle to see one of my sisters, I have a couple days to regroup and gather thoughts (and do laundry).

My grandmother Jane was a lovely lady. I know this, and my family knows this, but what I found out by standing in the receiving line at the visitation is that everyone who knew her knows this. For almost two hours I introduced (and re-introduced) myself as ‘the oldest granddaughter Elizabeth’ to people who played cards with her and my grandpa, people who attended to church with her, people who cooked with her in the church kitchen, people who worked their land, and I’m pretty sure that her entire floor of the retirement home came to pay their respects. I wish I could have recorded all the nice things people said about her in that line.

Her full name was Eleanor Jane, but she always went by Jane. Eleanor and Jane mean respectively ‘bright shining one’ and ‘God’s gracious gift,’ and let me tell you, she embodied her name. My husband and I had our children’s names picked out for years, but I told him the day of the funeral that if we ever had a girl, we would name her Eleanor Jane in place of the name we’d picked out. He said he wouldn’t even argue with that. I lightheartedly told him that was a good decision.

My grandmother left an amazing legacy of faith that was quietly and steadfastly lived out. During the memorial service the pastor read her statement of faith that she wrote in a Bible study class, and in it she said that when she was a young girl, she went to church when she could, with family members, with the neighbors. She loved to be in church. She always encouraged my faith, and I tried to go to church with her when I was in town, especially after my grandfather passed away.

She didn’t suffer. I’m happy for that. I’m also overjoyed for her present victory, but so overwhelmed at times with grief that this world (and I) lost a bright, loving, giving soul. God gave her an earthly vessel for 87 years. That, coupled with heartache, loss, and joy, makes for a long full life. I can only hope to come close to that.

I’m grieving still. My family is grieving. My dad has now lost both of his parents. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers. It’s especially hard when I want to call her to tell her about our recent visit with family, or about my upcoming trip to the West Coast. My heart aches when I realize that I can no longer speak with her.

But I don’t think I’ve ever understood our eternal destiny in Jesus more until she passed. I have never had such a sense of the truth and power of the Resurrection, nor have I ever had such a concrete moment in life attached to the Lenten season.

The message at church this past Sunday talked about how disciples suffer with Jesus. Our pastor, just hours before church began, lost his brother to a long battle with cancer. In the midst of that, he spoke about how we can’t have light without darkness. We can’t have the true and full joy of the Resurrection on Sunday without the tragic and sometimes infuriating events of this holy week. The timing of all these events is not happenstance; it’s the mysterious workings of God, perhaps to remind us where we’ve come from and where we’re going, and what our purpose is while we’re here. There is darkness, death, grief, and sin in this world. But Jesus has already overcome it. We can have freedom and resurrection with Him.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2

My Grammie and me

On the plane I try not to cry so I clench my teeth

Seeing the flat land of my birth below fills me with grief

I know that this is real, this passing on

I know that her soul like a bird has flown

On this cusp of spring when the earth soon will bloom

For all of the stories of love and affection, I would never have room

With warm coffee in hand I watch her face so fair

As she tells me stories, and I’m content to sit with her there

And of my rich history, now of this I do know

Of the generations of people who came before me, long ago

Throughout my life I see the pain and loss she endures

But praise God, there comes a day when peace and rest are now hers

This day we celebrate a life fully lived

We take comfort in the fact that she gave all there was to give

With one last breath her soul gives a heart cry

Now under the wings of an eagle, with our Lord she now flies

–for Eleanor Jane Rhoades Little, 1928-2016–

grammie and grandpa 1966
Grandpa and Grammie, 1966
grammie and me 1988
Grammie and me, July 1988
grandpa8
Grandpa, me, Dad, Mom, Grammie, June 2008

March 9 | Forgiveness

Forgiveness

I think when you have an attitude of servanthood to humankind, it’s easier to forgive. You see that holding grudges or anger against someone really doesn’t serve others. It doesn’t serve yourself, either.

Several years ago when I became a professional teacher, I also adopted the attitude that my number one responsibility is to serve my students, in whatever way that means. It could be picking up books that they drop, or lending them a pencil, or trying to get to the bottom of their multiple absences or tardies.

It’s easy to give that student a zero for bringing you a late assignment even though the syllabus says no late work is accepted. It’s easy to dole out a zero for a clearly plagiarized paper. It takes time to talk to a student after class, or have a meeting with him or her about the offending paper.

I had a student who was very nervous when I brought him in my office about his plagiarized paper. He knew my policy on plagiarism, but like many international students, they don’t fully understand the consequences of plagiarizing.

It turns out that this student asked his roommate to help him write the paper. He was embarrassed he couldn’t write at the same level as the other students. He didn’t want to turn in what he called ‘bad writing’.

We got to the bottom of it, and I allowed him extra time to work on the paper if he agreed to get tutoring from me and other writing tutors.

In the end, he failed the class despite his most earnest efforts. But I have no regrets about my actions towards him. He needed help, more help than I could give him in a whole-class environment in one semester. But he participated more fully in class, and even attempted freewriting exercises with more motivation than the other students.

I do not condone plagiarism, and my students will tell you that I am strict about my policies. But I err on the side of forgiveness and understanding when it comes to academic offenses. And I hope I can better extend this to my every day life.

 

 

March 8 | Mercy

Mercy

Mercy is unmerited favor, not getting what we deserve. Story of my life. Story of all our lives if we are alive in Christ.

It’s not really something we can fully comprehend, and we shouldn’t, because if we did, we’d be God.

It’s one of those things where you ask God, How could you love me? And not punish me according to what my sins deserve? And the answer is, Because I love you. Because.

Sometimes a frustrating answer, but an answer that still gives peace.

Seven miles.

Seven miles of clouds

Seven miles of cold

Seven miles of humidity

Seven miles of hills

Seven miles started with ‘it’s too cold’

Seven miles ended with ‘the cold is refreshing’

Seven miles started with ‘this view is boring’

Seven miles ended with ‘this view is home’

Seven miles started with ‘I can’t do this’

Seven miles ended with ‘I can do anything’

Seven miles started with ‘I’m hungry’

Seven miles ended with ‘I’m satisfied’

Seven miles started with ‘I’m weak’

Seven miles ended with ‘I’m strong’

Seven miles started with sadness

Seven miles ended with elation

Seven miles started with ‘this hurts’

Seven miles ended with ‘this heals’

 

 

aberdeen

 

March 7 | Confession

Confession

There are many definitions for “confession,” but the most prevailing one, at least in my mind, is that of telling God about my sins with a repentant spirit. It’s the part of prayer that I don’t exactly rush to get to, and sometimes I feel shame knowing what I have to confess. However, I think this might be the most important part of prayer, not because God just can’t wait to condemn us for our sins (nope! Romans 8:1), but because it really opens up our hearts to receive. Receive what? Grace, mercy, forgiveness, gifts, love… the list goes on and on.

For me, worship is the place where God breaks down my stubbornness and I’m able to confess and therefore really take hold of what He has for that particular moment. There’s something about lyrics to songs, or verses in hymns, or even a certain chord progression that cuts to my core.

And that’s how God made me to operate, and it’s beautiful. From a very young age I had an affinity for music. My mom tells me that at eight months I could rock to the beat (I think this could be an exaggeration…). At 7 I started taking piano lessons. I grew to be a pretty good pianist, picking up organ, guitar, and clarinet along the way.

At the center, I always prefer acoustic piano, guitar, or cello to anything else. And simple, biblically and theologically sound words. It gets to me every time. I’m encouraged every time. The wall around my heart falls every time, and I let Him in, my confessions falling at His feet.

 

Scripture readings for the week:

March 6 | Beloved

You Who Never Arrived, by Rainer Maria Rilke

You who never arrived

in my arms, Beloved, who were lost

from the start,

I don’t even know what songs

would please you. I have given up trying

to recognize you in the surging wave of

the next moment. All the immense

images in me — the far-off, deeply-felt

landscape, cities, towers, and bridges, and

unsuspected turns in the path,

and those powerful lands that were once

pulsing with the life of the gods–

all rise within me to mean

you, who forever elude me.

You, Beloved, who are all

the gardens I have ever gazed at,

longing. An open window

in a country house– , and you almost

stepped out, pensive, to meet me.

Streets that I chanced upon,–

you had just walked down them and vanished.

And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors

were still dizzy with your presence and,

startled, gave back my too-sudden image.

Who knows? Perhaps the same

bird echoed through both of us

yesterday, separate, in the evening…

I don’t know what to say besides the fact that I could have written this. I don’t know the original context in which this was written, but it applies to my life in this season. That’s all I can say…

March 5 | Focus

Focus

The ability to focus on one thing for a long period of time is glorified in our society. A Lenten promise to focus on for six weeks. A plan for a half marathon that lasts 12 weeks. A new eating plan that is supposed to last… forever? If you stick with it, you’re a hero, and if you fall off the wagon, you failed.

I’ve tried all these types of intense focus, from marathon training plans, to Lenten/Advent habits or rituals, eating plans.. and to be honest, I always fail somewhere along the way. I miss a day, have one too many cheat meals, just don’t feel like running that weekend. And I feel down about it.

So in order to have more focus in my life, I’ve tried setting more measurable and specific goals. Instead of saying, okay, I’m going to commit 100% to this half marathon plan, I’m going to look at the plan for every day. Narrow the scope a bit so it feels much more doable. Sure, I’ll probably hit 90% of the runs for the plan because if I don’t,  I won’t have a good race, but I also allow some leeway in there just in case.

This is not to discourage wholehearted attempts at creating new patterns or habits, especially if they’re healthy or good ones. I just refuse to look at it as a do-or-die thing. I keep my focus by getting to the heart of it: I see the benefits it has for my life, whether it’s keeping up with a daily devotional, running 3-4 times a week, or eating less ice cream (sad!). I’m much more motivated and focused when I’m not a slave to whatever plan I ascribe to, but rather a willing and involved participant.

March 4 | Restored

Restored

I have no better explanation of “restored” than the result of work that Jesus did on the cross: “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21 NASB). There is nothing on Earth that compares to this single act of love, compassion, and selflessness. When I think about it, turn it over in my head, envision what He went through, it wrecks me every time.

“Death in His Grave,” John Mark McMillan
Though the earth cried
Out for blood
Satisfied her hunger was
Billows calmed on raging seas
For the souls of men she craved
Sun and moon from balcony
Turned their head in disbelief
Their precious love would taste
The sting
Disfigured and disdained

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a king
Laid down in grief
But woke with the keys
Of hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The man Jesus Christ laid
Death in his grave

So three days in darkness slept
The morning sun
Of righteousness
But rose to shame
The throws of death
And overturn his rule
Now daughters
And the sons of men
Would pay not their dues again
The debt of blood
They owed was rent
When the day rolled anew

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a king
Laid down in grief
But woke holding keys
To hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The man Jesus Christ laid
Death in his grave

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a king
Laid down in grief
But woke with the keys
Of hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The man Jesus Christ laid
Death in his grave

He has cheated hell
And seated us above the fall
In desperate places he paid our
Wages one time once and for all

March 3 | Seeds

Seeds

In my Bible I used to have several mustard seeds folded into a little piece of wax paper, as a reminder of the verse where Jesus talks about how our faith can be as tiny as a mustard seed.

It was a good reminder after awhile when I opened my Bible, but I ended up being annoyed with it and throwing it away. I was always confused by the ‘mustard seed’ thing. Maybe it was a cultural thing back then to refer to a mustard seed, but I’d surely seen smaller seeds.

I also am horrible at tending to anything plant-like. I’ve killed a cactus, I’ve killed perfectly good (and supposedly hardy) petunias and begonias. I’ve tried to grow things from seeds and then plant them. I failed at it all. It was hard for me to imagine a tiny seed actually growing into something that would produce tomatoes, or peppers, or flowers. It seemed preposterous, really.

So I gave up and blamed it on the desert. I had better things to do with my time than get up super early to water everything, and weed everything at other times. Eventually my pots with dirt sat out in the sun, rain, wind, whatever. And we left them all at the house in El Paso when we moved.

Here in Maryland we have a deck, and I’ve talked to my husband about getting a few pots to plant things. He laughs because he knows my track record. I say, ‘No, it’ll be different this time. I think things could live here, you know?’

Maybe.