April 11 | Refuge

Now that I’m back home and back to a normal schedule after the TESOL Convention last week, I’ve returned to my regular Bible study. It’s something I need to work on – Bible study should never be ditched even when life goes awry – but I found today’s readings (or rather, the week’s) especially touching.

Psalm 23 is so well-known. Many of us can quote it in our sleep. It was one that was recited at my grandmother’s memorial service, and its common words brought comfort to me. It’s part of the lectionary texts for the week per Alive Now. I prefer it in the New American Standard version.

The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

I read the footnotes in my Bible, and it talks about how David wrote this while he was running and hiding from Saul, who was hot on his trail and wanting to kill him. Despite this, David found refuge even in the darkest moments.

Something I have been more cognizant of this calendar year has been to keep God at the forefront of my mind throughout the day. I get anxious very easily about my daily schedule; if something doesn’t go as planned I tend to start freaking out and complaining. One small change can send me over the edge, which can quickly form a dark downward spiral. It’s in those moments where I find calm, not in my ability to rein in my thoughts, but in declaring that God is the God of everything… even my daily mundane life. My goal is to seek refuge in Him whenever I’m feeling especially anxious to the point of an anxiety attack (thankfully attacks are rare for me now but still can happen*).

It grieves me to think of all the suffering and loss we have left to endure on the earth, with no escape that we can see with our human eyes. Therefore, we have to find refuge in the eternal. In this psalm, David is sure about goodness and lovingkindness following us throughout this life, and then he ends with our eternal hope. He writes in the present tense, reminding us, the readers, that God is here right now. At the juncture of this life and the next, we don’t just get glimpses and moments of calm in the midst of anxiety and confusion – we will walk into eternal calmness with absolutely no memory of our anxiety and confusion.

green pasture.PNG

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

Surviving the descent

I have to find the silver linings, the good things, about this. Because if I don’t, I’m doomed to live a life of regret and sorrow. Thing is, I never really thought about the alternative. Sure, maybe I tossed the idea around in my head that maybe this would never happen, but I didn’t dwell on it, and I really didn’t think it wouldn’t happen.

I don’t know if I’m still actively grieving. I spend a lot of time in my head as my own psychologist, even though I don’t have any credentials. I try to masterfully meta the crap out of my feelings, thoughts, outbursts. I have to just feel, let it be. Just let it be.

Something like this inevitably drives an annoying and awkward wedge, whether large or small, into relationships. Thankfully we, the only ‘we’ that really matters, have enveloped that chasm with our love and affection for each other that’s not dependent on the outcome.

Here I go, metathinking again. But maybe this is a reason I love adventure and mountaineering literature. People choose to go through hard trials of all sorts… climbing Everest without oxygen, trying to be the first woman to reach the summit of K2, setting out on a voyage to reach the top of the world. It’s not like any of us were forced into this; we all partook at will.

Some people perish, posthumously granted an all-access pass into the heart of mountains and seas. Some people survive, broken, missing fingers and toes, a brutal reminder of the peril they endured. Some people come out of it refreshed and renewed for the next adventure.

I think I’ve been a little of all of those kinds of people. A part of me has died, quite literally. Month after month, now year after year. There’s nothing tangible to determine this end, but I’m still missing something, someone, that seemed just within reach at one time. That for over ten years just hovered above the troposphere, waiting for me to call it, him, her, down to existence with me. I guess that someone will no longer hover; that someone will be taken away by the jet stream, out into space, forever.

A part of me has survived, no doubt about it, but a little bit broken. Fingers, toes, a bit frostbitten, but nothing that won’t heal, albeit damaged, after some time has passed. I still function. I still contribute. I still will thrive.

I cannot say that a part of me is refreshed and renewed, not yet. I’m getting there, ever so slowly. Looking back, I think I was grieving before I knew I was grieving. The mountain climber knows that if he has survived the descent and the long trip home, he will most likely live to climb again. With each prayer, meditation, embrace, air in my lungs, feet on the pavement, I will too.

K2, the second highest and arguably deadliest mountain in the world.

 

Hope never hurts.

The journey of infertility, at least for me, is not a test for my body to do biologically what it’s designed to do. I know that sounds counterintuitive. It’s a test of faith, much like other journeys we all go through.

I’m not making light of this journey. It’s difficult. It’s uncertain (especially if your diagnosis is “unexplained infertility”.. so scientific, right?). It’s lonely. When you get right down to it, it’s a stripped-to-the-bone roller coaster of elation, hope, disappointment, and depression.

In the year and a half we’ve been dealing with this journey, I’ve experienced all of those emotions. This summer was especially difficult. The baby announcements and family pictures posted by friends and family just did not relent. Even after cutting down my time on social media, I still felt the sting of comparison just thinking about how I did not have something that I, we, desperately want.

So I pushed it down. I threw my hands up in the face of hope and actually told my husband that we should just not have kids. Maybe that would be easier. Maybe that would be less painful. Then I could continue in my profession with few interruptions. Because DINK (double income no kids). Right, because money and trips and careers and things would fill in the gap in my heart for biological children, a perfect alchemy of genes from my husband and me.

Looking back on the long, hot, seemingly hopeless and emotional summer, I realize I wanted to not have kids so I could spare myself and my husband from the pain that is lost hope. I was tired of keeping my circle of family and friends updated, and wading through their comments, all well meaning, but just a real-life reminder of the place I was in. I was tired of being vulnerable, of being on the verge of tears more often than not, of pouring my heart out during worship and prayer times. I was rife with grief about asking over and over. Even though we continued to be faithful in attending church, I found myself pulling back and not wanting to get close to people because of the possibility of having to talk about this.

After vacation, I posted this entry, privately, and started really getting serious about training for a half marathon. I started back to work, no different physically than when I left in May. But something changed in my heart. I had that desire again for my own children, and I had the wherewithal to keep going. God has started to heal my heart.

In late July, my parents came to visit and towed a U-Haul carrying my most precious worldly possession: my great-grandmother’s piano. I started playing a little, and my hands flew over the keys as if we’d never been apart. That was part of the healing. I started playing keys and singing alto on the worship team at my church, and there I’ve been discovering more healing.

I’ve been able to talk to a few more people about this journey, and for once I don’t stiffen with offense with people ask me, So, do you guys want kids? Instead, I answer truthfully that Yes, we do. We’ve been trying for awhile and nothing yet. But we have hope.

More often than not, people have a similar story. Maybe they were never able to have their own children. Maybe they are suffering from secondary infertility. Maybe they’re considering the long arduous road to fostering or adoption.

This journey that the enemy has tagged to steal, kill, and destroy our hearts and hope actually can be a bright spot in the world for people with like circumstances to come together and support each other. And that’s why I’m “coming out” with our infertility. Not because I want pity or accolades or any of that. But because there’s no reason for it to be secret. It’s not shameful; we did nothing wrong. It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but in the midst of it I’ve found peace and hope and contentment, and I want others to know that they can, too.

I won’t lie: I have wished that when I finally shared this, I would be pregnant and therefore have “overcome” infertility. I’ve been waiting to get some family pictures done (none since 2009) until I have a “baby makes three” announcement to show off as a physical reminder of our love.

Life goes on. We keep praying and hoping and pursuing answers to the “unexplained.” We cry, we grieve the children that we actually may never bear biologically. There is one thing that is for sure: I will come out of this journey with my faith intact. The loss of hope, the wound of depression, the panic of anxiety, none of these things will take away my faith in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God, who through it all, refines us to make us more like Christ.

And that is the mercy for every mile of the journey.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because he cares for you.

I Peter 5:6-7