Saturday, December 29, 2012


One of the most beautiful things Emmett taught me was how to build a fire, even with wet wood.  The way you arrange the wood, prepare the kindling, even place the lit match and nurse it just so when it begins to burn.  I loved watching him build fires when we went camping because he made it an art form, and though the patience required nearly drove me crazy I became so good at building them that he often told me I was better than him (though I suspect he was just trying to curry favor).  Whenever we had fires at the house, he would sit up and watch them burn out long after I had gone to bed, always the rule-following boy scout, waiting for the embers to be cold to make sure we were all safe. 

So as I stay up waiting for he fire to go out tonight, I keep listening to his song on repeat:

          Kate York, Lay Down Your Sorrows

          Lay down your sorrows so troubled of heart
          come to the tree on the hill as you are
          Lay down your burdens that you've called friends
          watch as it blooms into life again

          Here is the ending and here it begins
          here at the river that washes your sins.
          Cast all your shame, all your sorrows and guilt
          here on this altar that love has built.

          There is no burden too heavy for him
          There is no battle scar he cannot mend.
          Love is a man well acquainted with grief,
          He longs to show you the way to peace.

          Fathers and mothers, O daughters and sons,
          Mercy is waiting with wide open arms.
          Heaven's a feast and the table is set.
          Run with abandon and never look back.

I love the rhythm of this song.  It makes me feel like a little girl dancing.  Not that I actually danced in my living room.  Who would do something so silly....  Sheesh.  When Quinn dances, which he still does frequently and with great abandon, it is a glorious sight to behold.  His awkward hips and flailing arms interspersed with short, jerky hops delight my heart, even as I'm silently praying he doesn't fall on his face again because, let's face it, the poor guy inherited my coordination.

Someone responded to one of my last few posts, commenting on my grief journey, and I was a little surprised.  There is so much darkness and struggle in my life, and grief - of a sort, yet I haven't felt particularly like I've been grieving.  Rather, I feel like grief over Emmett was just the first step into a new dimension of my journey, a new awareness of God at work.  It's funny to be pigeon-holed as "the widow," and it sometimes catches me off guard when I get the impression that people expect me to be carrying some kind of weight ready to dump on the next unsuspecting victim.  Yet I can honestly say that precisely because of the intensity of the battle, I've never felt this light.

Perhaps it is because I've given up trying to arrange my life just so, trying to get the stack just right.  As I watch the fire die tonight, I'm praying for God to arrange the pieces of my life just so, to stack each gnarled, soaked, twisted branch into a glorious heap ready to catch on fire.  And that's not a place of grief.  It's a place of reality, not a blind superficiality, but a tenuous hope.  Not ignorant of suffering, but not driven to despair.  I've found it to be part battlefield and part ballroom.  It's a curiously secure yet fragile place where joy is forged from sorrow and peace is the hard won prize for long-suffering.  

still standing

Music never really defined much of my life until Emmett began making me mixed tapes in high school. Now I find certain songs bring memories rushing back, like Michael W. Smith's, "Friends are friends Forever."  That's such a horribly cheeseball song, but it's apparently exactly what you should put on your girlfriend's mix tape when she graduates from high school.  At least Emmett isn't alive to kill me for telling the world that he put that on a mixed tape for me.  If he were alive right now, then I'd be in big trouble for ruining his street-cred.

Whenever I hear Cleareyed by Glen Phillips or Sons & Daughters by the Decemberists, I'm immediately transported to Quinn's nursery just after he was born where I read my way through the Harry Potter books and Neil Peart's Traveling Music while I nursed Quinn and Emmett toured the country playing drums.  Those were songs of hope and endurance, but they were also lighthearted and merry.  

When I downloaded, Light for the Lost Boy by Andrew Peterson, a few months ago, I was initially disappointed, and I put it down for a while.  But when I picked it back up in September and fell in love with it, I didn't really know it would be the soundtrack for the last couple months of my life.  Let's start with these lyrics from the first song:

'Cause every death is a question mark
At the end of the book of a beating heart
And the answer is scrawled in the silent dark
On the dome of the sky in a billion stars
But we cannot read these angel tongues
And we cannot stare at the burning sun
And we cannot sing with these broken lungs
So we kick in the womb and we beg to be born
Deliverance, O Lord!
When you look into grief and refuse to cover it up with self-justfication or co-dependencey or martyrdom or food or comparison-- when you face all the hard parts of reality without glossing over them or making up alternate stories that sound better-- when you stand on the edge and stare into a darkness you cannot read -- this is the very spot where I have been frozen these past months despite all the busy holidays and friends and work and family.  For a moment, when the shootings happened in Newtown, I felt that most of the world had come to join me in my little spot, yet how quickly people drifted to distractions, to find any petty argument to turn their gaze away from the darkness.

But it was in the darkness, surrounded by a sky more beautiful and terrible and lonely than we can imagine, that God gave Abraham a promise.  I had no idea this darkness was the place I had to stand to see God.  I don't think I could have signed up for this gig so many years ago if I had known it would lead me here.  And yet...

I couldn't really put it into words until I read Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts.  It is a beautiful little book that I avoided because it was so trendy and her writing style is not my favorite.  When a dear friend gave it to me, I started it with mixed feelings of obligation and curiosity, yet I quickly devoured it as words of life to my soul.  While the book is an amazing testimony of the transforming power of thankfulness, I was struck by so many of her stories.  The moments where she learned to be transformed by gratitude were the moments when she came face to face with the darkness, the ugliness, the hopelessness, and chose to face that emptiness and wait on God.  I was overwhelmed with the importance of learning just to stand in the darkness and intentionally open yourself up to God.  I had not been practicing euchariteo as she calls it; instead of "thank you," my thoughts were more like, "um... i'm here, now what..." But I was amazed at the ways in which God would meet me in those moments, ways that are probably not even noticed externally, but speak to my soul that God is accomplishing a beautiful work in my soul.  And I was so thankful to know I wasn't nuts, or if I was nuts, then someone else was there with me.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm still an expert sinner, but by intentionally removing all my coping mechanisms and forcing me to metaphorically stare into the abyss, God is also training me to see him.  But standing on the edge of the abyss can really take it out of a girl.  I mean, sheesh, have I been tired.  Sometimes I feel like the work of faith is more like just standing.  You know the last scene of the last X-men movie where Wolverine is standing there regenerating his skin as fast as that Jane girl can burn it away?  I kind of feel like I am living that scene every day.

It's like Paul says in Ephesians 6: 13, "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand."  I am just standing lately.  That's it.  Nothing glamorous, but some days when I get to the end of the day and I'm still standing, stripped of all my coping mechanisms that I so desperately want to use to hide the abyss - oh man - those are the nights I want to laugh out loud or dance a jig precisely because I'm still standing.  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Recycling and Bicycling

Shortly after we were married, Emmett and I were cleaning out the last remaining items we had left our parents' houses.  I was going through a box of school items under my bed when I came across a green notebook full of poetry that I wrote in seventh grade.  Seventh grade girl poetry.  In other words, epic.  It was entirely about dolphins and saving the planet and recycling, which by the way, only sort of (in a very unsatisfying, contrived sort of way) rhymes with bicycling.  Yep.  That's how good I was.

I cringed as I opened it, so of course Emmett immediately snatched it from me and began reading them aloud, much to his delight and my embarrassment.  After wrestling him for the notebook, I vowed to rid the world of my awful poetry, once and for all.  Although Emmett protested loudly, I finally managed to destroy its contents, and the world is a much better place.

I remember showing that notebook to my seventh grade english teacher, and I was so proud of it.  The response I got from her when she returned it was much less enthusiastic than I anticipated. I'm surprised she managed to say anything nice at all.  That is why middle school teachers are saints and I teach high school.

Lately though when I sit down to write, I end up closing my blog, putting away my story outlines, and writing poetry.  What?  Yeah.  Somebody shoot me now before I embarrass myself again.  That's how I feel about it.  After swearing I'd never attempt poetry again, I can't seem to stop (although I'm so dreadfully slow I feel pretty much like I'm not moving).  And no, there is no way I'd post a poem on the internet, so don't even suggest it.

But there is something about poetry that fits with my life right now.  Sometime this week I realized that today would mark 18 months since Emmett died.  Today I learned that a Team Emmett board member and new friend had passed away after his cancer returned a couple of months ago.  I've been watching friends have babies, get married, take new jobs, move, get promotions, grieve, and suffer while I feel forced to sit still, merely a spectator.  So when I have a chance to reflect on and engage with reality, the true reality of God and creation, I find myself being thrown up against this invisible wall that I can't seem to penetrate.  I sit down to read the Bible, and I know there is deep, life giving truth, but the words ping around my brain like meaningless hieroglyphs. And not for lack of knowledge.  It's like no matter how much I study or read or work, I keep hitting a wall and truth - real life-giving, soul-satisfying truth -  is always on the other side.  I picture myself beating desperately on this wall, asking to be let in, shouting meaningless words at the chaos just wanting confirmation that I've been heard, much like Habakkuk.

N.T. Wright, in Surprised By Hope says that:
When the Bible speaks of heaven and earth it is not talking about two localities related to each other within the same space time continuum or about a nonphysical world contrasted with physical one but about two different kinds of what we call space, two different kinds of what we call matter, and also, quite possibly (though this does not necessarily follow from the other two) two different kinds of what we call time.  
I never really had any perspective on heaven and earth because heaven being a place in the sky somewhere past Jupiter never really worked for me.  But the way Wright speaks of it here, I can't help but geek out over how much this resonates with my science nerd brain.  Now if you've read anything or seen any PBS specials on string theory, you're probably no better off actually understanding what it says, and I'm not even going to try to explain it because it doesn't really make any sense and there's no way of testing if it's true, which makes it a pretty useless scientific theory.  However it presents a very similar possibility of extra dimensions, present but undetectable (hence the uselessness of the theory).

Essentially, whole worlds could exist right in front of us and we might never know.  Doesn't this sound just like the veil Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians?  Like Lewis's Narnia?  Jesus could be standing right in front of me like those guys on the runway guiding airplanes waving giant sticks of light (I'm sure they have a fancy name but I don't care enough to google it), and I have no sense of his presence.  Yet in some mystery of faith I know he is there, even though I can't get past that veil.  And what's more embarrassing is to think of that great cloud of witnesses from Hebrews 12 standing just on the other side of that veil cheering and booing and whooping and hollering as I live out the success and failures of my daily life.

Hence the poetry.  How that veil can be frustratingly impenetrable and yet so tenuously thin makes my breath catch and my body tremble and my brain shut down.  It simultaneously makes me want to conquer the world and never get out of bed again.  So metaphors are the only things I have left to work with anymore.  Sometime in eternity when I can see clearly, I will cast off these words as a child's attempt to explain the dim shapes in the mirror.  But for now I'm still stuck trying to get recycling to rhyme with bicycling and it's still very unsatisfying.