Still Haven’t Found…

I used to think U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was a great song, but also a sad one.

wpid-20150207_172018.jpgI believe in the kingdom come
When all the colors will bleed into one, bleed into one
But yes I’m still running.
You broke the bonds and You loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame, of my shame
You know I believe it
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

I used to hear that and think, “No, see, Bono, that was it. You found it. Right there.” I would think about how sad it was that those words weren’t enough for Bono, that he still felt lost and searching even though he believed in Jesus. How could he still feel the need to search for anything else? What, exactly, is he looking for that Jesus can’t satisfy?

Now that I’m reaching my mid-twenties, roaming in search of community, home, and still reeling from the loss of my last surviving parent, I think I’m starting to see where he’s coming from, that lifelong search…

The song hits me in a new way, and tears stream down my face as I try to drive home. I believe it, Jesus, you know I believe it, but I still feel lost and confused. I believed it, but where has it led me? Where am I going? I’m seeing as through a mirror darkly. I want more, but I don’t know what that more is. I want TRUTH, but I’m terrified of finding out I’ve been lied to… I’m afraid of everything I’ve built around me since the age of 5 unraveling and falling to pieces.

C.S. Lewis says God has to knock down our house of cards just so we can finally see that it was a house of cards after all. But then what’s left?

Someone once spoke to me in prayer three years ago about a vision of myself wrapped tightly in bandages and cloth that were slowly being unraveled so that I could see…

I know it was also Bono who said, “For all that ‘I was lost, I am found,’ it is probably more accurate to say, ‘I was really lost. I’m a little less so at the moment.’ And then a little less and a little less again. That to me is the spiritual life. The slow reworking and rebooting the computer at regular intervals, reading the small print of the service manual. It has slowly rebuilt me in a better image. It has taken years, though, and it is not over yet.”

Am I “rebooting?” Where am I going?

I’m almost finished with my reread of the Harry Potter series and I don’t know where to go next. It has been such a comfort to me, a way for me to escape, to remember, to believe in love, and to work through my emotions. I’m afraid. I’m finding it hard to pick up my Bible anymore, and I’ve let the mirror collect dust so that now the Image I see dimly is even hazier and darker than before. I don’t know where to turn.

I’m cynical and I’m tired. Some days I’m afraid to even look into the mirror, and then I’m afraid I’ve gone too long without doing so… How do I begin to go back again? How do I clean off the dust? How do I accept that it’ll never be truly clear? I hope I’m not too far gone.

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Let there be Light, and let it warm my bones.

on death, prayer, and phoneixes

I’m trying hard to write. I’m trying hard not to write. When the grieving thoughts strike me during my lunch break, I ache for the cathartic process of creating beauty from ashes. Then break’s over, a happy face returns, and by the time I get home, I decide I’d rather escape into Harry Potter‘s world of ashes and phoenix songs than focus on my own.

Where’s my phoenix?

I’m currently reading three books at the moment:

1) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (I just finished Goblet of Fire) by J.K. Rowling
2) Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr
3) American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning by Kate Sweeney

You wouldn’t think those three fit together very well, but they mingle beautifully in my head.

For example, Rohr writes, “Historic cultures saw grief as a time of incubation, transformation, and necessary hibernation. Yet this sacred space is the very space we avoid. When we avoid darkness, we avoid tension, spiritual creativity, and finally transformation. We avoid God, who works in the darkness — where we are not in control. Maybe that is the secret: relinquishing control.”

Sweeney writes of Victorian mourning customs, “However, while strides were taking place in the name of modernity and expedience in other realms … mourning was designed to be hard. You had buried your brother; you would stay up nights over a candle sweating over the thinnest pins wrapped in his hair. You would wear scratchy clothes and mourning veils for months. It would not be convenient or subtle, and you would not be comfortable.”

Rowling writes many of her great quotes in the voice of Professor Dumbledore. When I stumbled over this passage in Goblet of Fire in which Dumbledore speaks to Harry about witnessing a tragic death, I cried. She writes, “‘If I thought I could help you,’ Dumbledore said gently, ‘by the putting you in an enchanted sleep and allowing you to postpone the moment when you would have to think about what has happened tonight, I would do it. But I know better. Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it. You have shown bravery beyond anything I could have expected of you. I ask you to demonstrate your courage one more time. I ask you to tell us what happened.'”

I remember that. I remember wanting nothing more than to sleep… to sleep and wake up and find that it had all been only a nightmare. Even though I know now that no amount of sleep will reverse what happened, I welcome a deep, enchanted sleep to escape for a bit.

Have I been sleeping too long now? Have I avoided telling my story? Have I been avoiding the darkness, or have I just been letting myself stay comfortably numb in the twilight?

Rowling goes on to say that the sweet song of Dumbledore’s phoenix “warms” Harry’s insides, giving him hope. I ache for a phoenix. Am I really going to be transformed, as Rohr claims… or have I already passed the incubation period? Sometimes I wish we still honored a Victorian mindset about death, where mourning was public, prolonged, accepted, where our outside appearance reflected the turmoil of our hearts. But what happens after the designated “mourning period” has ended? What happens to widow after her year of wearing nothing but black ends abruptly and she is expected to wear color again? Does that mean she no longer grieves? Does that mean she’s “over” it?

I don’t want to talk about how long it’s been.

I returned wpid-20150114_161158.jpgto my walking lake today. I didn’t walk it, because it was chilly and I wasn’t wearing the right shoes, but I just felt the urge to see it. I hadn’t been to the water in months because of the bitter cold. I’ve been hearing the geese, though, the cacophony of life that inhabits this frozen wasteland. It’s as though they’ve been calling to me, beckoning me. So I went back today, just to look. I found light again, a beauty reminiscent of the one that saved me during those toughest months of my life… Is it wrong that I haven’t been walking there? Is it bad that I haven’t journaled?

I still just want to read Harry Potter and forget — No, forget is not the right word. I do escape, that much is true, but I also find a part of myself in those books, my grief, my childhood, my fear, my hope…

Sometimes all I want to do is fall inside those pages and never come out, so I’m breaking up the wizarding world with a book about death and a book about prayer… It’s a strange little collection, I know, but I hope it will awaken me slowly, allow me to breath a bit deeper, and lead me even closer to resurrection…

Big Medicine and Strong Magic

wpid-20141111_070642.jpgI went on a mini, individual retreat these past two days.

When I walked into my room tired from the road and ready to dig into the meal I’d brought, the first thing to greet me was a painting of bread and wine. I was hungry, and there was Communion. I longed for it.

I have thought about Communion a lot over my life. It is a mystery, it is a beauty, it is at times strange and unreal, sometimes so close, and at other times I struggle to feel anything. I am determined to keep exploring this mystery…

For no specific reason, the thought of communion in my retreat center room took me back to a memory of sharing communion with my mother. It’s the closest memory I have of sharing “church” with her, and I really wish the memory would last longer. I think it came about when she had taken me to walk through one of those live-action Jesus-walk things they do at Christmas time… You know, where the people dress up like first century citizens living in Bethlehem and talk with you about this new Jesus guy. I really can’t remember much about the experience except that I loved it and there were fritters… (There’s a better chance I’ll remember something if food’s attached to it.) Anyway, after the walk, we were led in to the church where we could take communion. It’s fairly possible that I’m mixing two memories together on this one, but I do remember that it was an unfamiliar church. My mom and I sat down on the pew with our bread and our grape juice and I must’ve looked confused because she started to tell me what to do: “Just say your own little prayer and then eat.”

My mom, bless her. The most specific memory I have of her connected to a  spiritual experience, and it’s her teaching me at a young age how to make communion my own. She was teaching her obsessive-compulsive little girl that she didn’t have to worry about the right rules or the right words, but that she could simply accept God’s gift and find personal communion with Him.

wpid-20141111_065130.jpgI’m sure I’m reading too much into this memory, but it’s all I have to go on, so I am running with it. I love my mom. I wish I knew more about her life and her faith. My dad would tell me some things, and I’m so grateful that a few months before he died he told me about how my mom always liked going to church and sitting in the sanctuary. God, I really wish I knew more…

It’s not fair. I wish I could talk to them about this stuff on this side of eternity. I want to ask my mom more about communion, about God, about the purpose of life and how she got through the hard times… I want to ask my dad about eternity, about prayer, I want to share the things I’m learning (or rather questioning) with him. I want to hear him sing off key again. I want to hear my mother sing, I can hardly remember it…

I never meant for this post to turn into what it has become. I suppose I am always going to write about them, and that’s good, it keeps them real and alive for me.

I really did enjoy contemplating communion (in all senses of the word) these past two days… I read Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis and took comfort in the fact that the scholar who taught me so much still could never understand the mystery of Communion, and that he was okay with it, with taking the mystery. “Here is big medicine and strong magic,” he said.

Yes. I found another kind of magic in the retreat center’s outdoor labyrinth, a winding path that leads to one center core. This one, with its Colorado rose stones guiding the way, was homemade by the boyscouts, as the nuns told me. I had no idea how much I would appreciate this labyrinth. It was bitter cold and snowing out. I had gotten up to wander the grounds with the hopes of seeing the sunrise, but it was too cloudy for that. My wandering did lead me to a garden and the labyrinth however. Wrapped in my blanket with my cup of rapidly cooling coffee, I waited for the deer to exit and then entered in…

What can I say? Trust the path, is the phrase that kept coming back to me. Yes, the labyrinth led me in some twisting ways, and at times I felt so far from the center that I felt it would take ages to get there, but the time went by faster than I thought, and the path always led me right. It was a comforting exercise in trust and a symbol that I’m sure I will harken back to many times. wpid-20141111_065152.jpg

Strong magic. Sacred space. Each moment is sacred, God is all in all, “joy is the serious business of heaven.” In God, we live and move and have our being… Even here, back in the normal way of things. Even now. Oh, bless the Lord, my soul.

thoughts on enduring.

wpid-20140829_152842.jpgI don’t want to write this.

I don’t want to write about how I left work today because I felt too wrapped in semi-conscious grief to function.

I don’t want to write about how it’s been sixteen months, and I suddenly now feel as raw and broken as I did sixteen months ago.

I think Fall is triggering something. Last Fall was pretty bad, and even though circumstances have changed and I have happier things in my life, I still have this one overarching sorrowful thing that screams inside my head.

This can’t be happening. I have to be able to function. I have a good job. I have love in my life. I get to spend time with my family. How can I still get lost in the darkness?

I don’t want to write about it because I’m afraid it will suck me back into the vortex.

If I write about how much I miss them, about all the other losses that come with it, I’m afraid I’ll go down a spiral that I can’t climb back up. But I’ve been told I need to focus on it, allow the grief to wash over me, and it will—it’ll wash over me and pass. That’s what they say anyway, but it doesn’t feel like it’s passing.

Today, I had tears stuck in my eyes. They were literally stuck at the edge of my vision, making it unable to focus on anything else, blurring my sight and fracturing it with rainbow colors. And they wouldn’t go away.

They’ve gone now. If I write about it, I’m afraid they’ll come back. If I don’t write about it, I’m afraid they’ll come back tomorrow at the most inconvenient moment.

Even in tears you can see a rainbow…. Is that supposed to mean something? Even the dying leaves are beautiful…

I know, I know, I wrote a lot about Autumn last year. I can’t help it, it’s a bit of an obsession. It’s the one time of year where the Earth joins us in our dying, where we find joy in the dying.

I can’t escape this poetry. Maybe that’s what’s triggering the “relapse” of grief, I don’t know.
Maybe it also has to do with the upcoming holidays. The first round was terrible, and I know the second won’t be much easier.

Recently I saw a play based on The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion’s memoir which I’ve quoted here before. In the play, the actor playing Didion talked about geology… about the lessons of science. The earth is in a state of constant change, but it always continues.

Today I wrote on my arm: “Endures.”  I do that sometimes when I need a reminder to get me through the day. Endures. His love endures forever. God endures forever. I endure, here, in this moment. Despite it all, I have endured. I will endure. He holds me close. A dying star leaves behind the perfect conditions for new ones to glow. Life finds a way.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

wpid-img_20140730_151118.jpgI’ve been pretty silent on the blog this summer. The one year anniversary of my dad’s death passed, along with the birthday that marks the first year of my life in which my dad had no physical presence. I’ve been silent on here about it for several reasons…

One is that I’ve started a lot of posts only to end in bitterness and confusion because I’ve been on a rocky journey lately.

Another reason is that I’ve been able to forget that bitterness and confusion because of happy and joyous things going on in my life these past couple of months, and so coming back to this blog brings me down again with feelings of both grief and guilt.I’ve probably been trying to avoid that.

I want to write about my dad, I want to write about grief, but sometimes I also just want to throw off the weight of grief and be happy.

The seasons are changing again. I thought that I couldn’t handle the smell of summer, but now the crisp fall air frightens me. I wonder if I am simply still afraid of the passage of time. I’m afraid of the marking of more days, months, years spent without my dad. Fall means I’ve done this before, it’s not the anniversary of the death but it’s the anniversary of the aftermath… It hurts because I used to love Fall. Hopefully I still can…

The other day I caught myself saying, “I’m tired of this. I’m tired of being the girl without any parents.” It was a strange emotion. It was as if I felt like turning to the sky and saying, “Okay, God, I’ve done the whole grieving thing. I think it’s gone on long enough. You can bring my dad back now.”

And I think that’s why I’ve been so silent on this blog– because after writing that sentence, I had to stop and search Facebook for ten minutes because I didn’t want to keep writing.wpid-img_20140825_163538.jpg

That happy stuff, the good stuff, the gifts that I can’t believe are coming my way in this life… that all comes with a sadness too, it comes with its own shadow. Because when I’m happy, I want my parents to know that, I want them to see it. I want them to meet the amazing new friends in my life, I want them to hear about my job, I want to tell them stories about Grey Havens YA

I don’t want to go through another Fall without them.

Title taken from “To Autumn” by John Keats.

Mingled.

As I approach June 10 2014, I don’t know how to feel. Once again, I let the words of Josh Garrels speak for me:

We wait for downpours
A drenching joy
A carnival sky

But what I don’t say,
What I can’t say,
Is that with this joy
Comes a mourning…

Something left behind
Blue lined, teary
Mingled, I move on…

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Mingled, I move on. I really don’t like the term, “move on.” It sounds so final, so simple. It’s something you only do once, and once you’ve done it, it’s over. You’ve moved on, life is normal again. Also, the word “move,” implies a moving away from something, leaving something behind. I don’t want to “move on.” I like better the phrase my grandmother used to say to me for a while after my mother died: “Keep on keeping on.”

Mingled, I keep on. This year has been one of survival. I’ve had a few people ask me recently what I plan on doing with my future, and I cannot answer them. I cannot answer them because all I’ve been able to do is focus on surviving, and that is what I plan on continuing to do.

I do know one thing I want from this life, though. I want not only to survive, but to thrive.

Whatever that means, whatever that looks like, I want it. And I know for certain that my mom and dad would want that for me too.

Mingled. The year is over, but the grief and the mourning and pain are not. There will still be times when I am not anywhere near “okay.” I will keep writing about it, because I have to, because I want to share with others, I want to cultivate roses in this wasteland, as I walk through this valley of the shadow of death. Let there be light. Let there be beauty. Let there be joy. (And let there be recognition of sorrow, too.)

Let. There. Be. Life.

All things will change
We wait for the rain
And the promise remains.

Substance.

It has been almost a year now since my dad died.

It sucks. It is painful. I miss him, and I am trying not to think about it too much. Strangely enough, though, I feel similar now to how I felt last year, just before it happened: hopeful. This tragedy has led me to a place I never thought I’d be, and I think I am finally starting to settle into that place, to find the hope in it. God has blessed me with a joy I never thought I’d find. …And I am terrified of losing it all again (just as I had lost my hope last year).

One day, one breath at a time. Manna today, what is it? I cannot comprehend it, but I can choose to accept it, this mystery, and I can trust that God will provide this inexplicably satisfying mystery daily. Today the manna brings delight to my soul. Tomorrow it may not be so joyful, but it will still fill me, as my God promises never to leave me nor forsake me.

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Eleven. (Months).

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Not long after this time last year, I welcomed the rain, the thunder, the wind, the lightning. It echoed the storm, the chaos in my own soul. It reminded me that God was big and powerful and outside my control — and yet His storms could be breathtakingly beautiful.

This year, however, I fear the storm. I fear the return of the rains because they signal the passage of time. (I’ve noticed that sudden death tends to make one obsessed with time.)

This world is moving on, and June will come again with her storms, same as last year, same as all the years before. Last June was no different than this June; for the rain it was just like any other summer.

The world is moving on, am I moving with it? I cannot decide whether that is good or bad. But I know the storms scare me. They shake me.

They wrest me, and steal my joy… when I used to run and dance in their rain, I used to marvel at their power, I used to want to be consumed by the storms, taken into the clouds, carried away on the winds.

But today I dread the encroaching darkness. I dread the thought of a year without him.

And yet the storm calls to me; the winds beckon me on…

when He is risen, but death still hurts.

Last year on Easter, I went to a sunrise service, had breakfast with friends, and then went to pick up my dad from the airport. We shared Easter dinner together with my aunt’s side of the family, and then I got to spend about a week with my dad before he flew back to Colorado. That was the last time I got to see him.

Last year, I had Easter dinner with my dad. This year, he is not here. How do I celebrate that death has no power, no sting, when its power overwhelms me and its sting still hurts?

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Christ’s tomb is empty, but my dad’s urn is still full. What does it mean?
“Today you will be with me in paradise,” Christ said to the thief who hung dying beside him. Not, “In the last days,” but “Today.” What does it mean?

“What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” 1 Corinthians 15:36. NIV. Or, “Every time you plant seed, you sow something that does not come to life [germinating, springing up, growing] unless it dies first.” -AMP.

On the night before He hung on the cross, Jesus told His disciples, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

Where is that joy? Why does it feel like death has swallowed it up — when in reality, death is the one that is swallowed up, destroyed, rendered powerless?

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The very day before my dad died, before I even knew it was coming, I went to church and listened to a sermon on Nehemiah 8. I wrote verse 10 in my journal: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” I continued writing, “What does that mean, God? Teach us, lead us. The joy of the LORD is your strength.”

I am looking for the joy of the LORD today. I found Him in the stillness of the early morning hours, in the dark sky, in the foggy mists, in the creeping dawn. I found joy at first light, as the world turned golden orange and the water sang.

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Then the day came on, the sun rose rapidly in the sky, the stillness turned to busyness, and the cool mists burned away in the stifling heat… And now it is dusk. The sun has gone down again, and I am still not any closer to understanding Christ, His death, His sacrifice; His resurrection, His victory. I am drawn to Him, to the dawn. I need His hope, but I don’t understand it.

What does Resurrection mean today? For me? For the orphan? For the widow?

It is easy to sing of Christ’s victory, “He rose and conquered the grave, He conquered the grave.” It’s easy, when death seems far away, when you haven’t yet felt its sting, or when that sting has faded to a dull memory. Today, though, it hurts. Today, I sing, “He conquered the grave” not with a shout of triumph, but with a cry of desperation. It has to be true. He has to be risen. Death is defeated, it has to be, or what else can I do?

This sorrow will not pass, but perhaps joy can mingle with it… perhaps “pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness.” I am looking for the eucastastrophe.

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Against my ruins

My sense of smell is intricately (and sometimes quite inconveniently) linked to my memory.

The other day I caught a whiff of new-carpet smell, and I nearly burst into tears. (My dad used to work in a carpet store. That smell clung to his being all of my childhood life.)

And yet another day, the air was warm and heavy. We opened the windows. As I walked down to my room at the end of the night, I caught the smell, that outdoorsy, windows-open, fresh air, summer smell. I can’t handle that smell, the smell of summer…

Because my last summer was so awful. Daunting. Oppressive. Dark. Suffocating.
It can’t be summer yet. It’s too soon.

T.S. Eliot says,
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

Did winter keep me warm? Winter was awful too at times. But the cold was so long and permeating that perhaps I forgot about the passage of time. And now it is April.

More Eliot,
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

I never agreed with Eliot’s description here before. Who could call ever call the breath of April cruel? But now I think I am beginning to see what he means. Yes, spring is the season of the poets, but in the joy of new life, there is also sorrow. It is this very juxtaposition of the blooming April against the decaying winter that makes it so cruel.

The world is still slow, silent, dead, when spring tries to grab hold of us and thrust us into the life.

Pablo Neruda,
How do the seasons know
they must change their shirt?

Why so slowly in winter
and later with such a rapid shudder?

What will it be like this time around? Can I handle that rapid shudder?

And how do the roots know
they must climb toward the light?

And then greet the air
with so many flowers and colors? -Neruda.

Am I climbing towards the light? I need it so desperately.
But when my dried roots reach that light, will there be any flowers to bloom?

I have lost my train of thought. Eliot: These fragments I have shored against my ruins… What does it mean? What will it bring? I need to climb towards the light. Lilacs, I want lilacs. I cling to the promise of the lilacs, of the spring rain. This dead land, this waste land, needs water to quench it and color to save it.

(Come in under the shadow of this red rock)
-Eliot.