Saturday, September 24, 2016

Put it (them) down

A friend of mine's son is dying. I don't have words. What can you say? I keep seeing the boy's face, and while my mind processes that logically he doesn't look like that anymore-for it was nine years ago that I saw him in person- I can't help but see the same sweet face when I think of him and pray for him. My daughter is now roughly the same age he was then, and... he's too young. He's just too young to die.
I see my friend last night at work, and in our large organization we haven't worked in an immediate work group together for nine years but he was just transferred. I'm startled to see him standing before me. I don't know that I would be able to put my pants on and lace up my boots and get to work if my kid was doing so bad. I text my husband later that I don't know what to say. What's even worse is that is exactly what I said to my friend also: 'I just don't know what to say, I'm praying for him and you every day.' Later my husband tells me, there's nothing you can say. And I'm not good at that. At doing nothing. At saying nothing. Nothing.
My husband has me on a 'put it down' plan. And what he means by that is I have a tendency to pick up other's burdens. I think it comes from the 'NF' as in the Myers Briggs' personality traits of intuition plus feeling. When your middle two are NF it can make you an external empath. So it's like having your heart outside of you all the time, but not on your sleeve necessarily, think more like a go-go-gadget heart that punches outward to give to people. It even has a handy case around it to keep it relatively safe but the trick is not giving it out, all of it, and that I am not good at either. We feel deeply for others. Often, and especially in the case with me, we seem to get where others are coming from and feeling better than we understand our own selves. 
So I have to be reminded to Put. It. Down. Or to put them down. Otherwise I'll carry it all. Every friend's hard thing. Every death. Every grieving father. I pick it up.
Tonight I'm thinking of my friend and the fact that he might have to bury his son very soon. His young son that should not be dying. And I'm thinking about the fact that I have no words.
Quietly my friend says to me 'he's home playing video games.' When I get home and see my son playing a video game with his blonde curls spilling on his shoulder and his beautiful blue eyes looking up at me, my heart just breaks because I couldn't bear it. I could not survive my son dying. 
But I'm reminded of another thing someone said to me. Her husband had died and I was newly married. I couldn't fathom losing this one I had just joined with and loved so much. She told me: 'Stop! Don't try to be in the place that I'm in, because you're not. There  is a special grace for those that are going through hard things like this, and those that are outside of it just don't have that grace.' 
So in other words, when the hard things come, there is provision in what you need even in the hardest things. I think I still don't get it but that's because I'm not supposed to. I'm not in a season of having a dying son. Thank the Lord. But I know one who is in that season and it breaks my heart. Instead, I choose to walk up to the altar and put them down before the One. The very One who sent his own son to die for us. That kind of father's sacrifice I cannot even begin to fathom. For my now seven-year-old has dreams of being an army guy and I can't tell you the wild terror that comes to my heart when I think of the danger he will be in. But I do know that it is not my time to go through this. 
So I have no words for this friend. The only thing that comes to mind is: 'that sucks.' That is certainly not sufficient. Instead I will walk up and put him down each day before the altar. Each day I will pray. And long after. Because I know that the grief will come most strong after and in waves and will take years. I am good at the long praying. I can pray for people, for situations, for years, decades even if need be. So that is what I will do. I will pray long. That is all I will be able to do. In the end, what needs to happen, is for me to put it down before the altar of the Almighty.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

For when you are stuck and need someone to show up

A friend of mine died last week. More than a friend really, as I blubbered in front a room full of people at her funeral, she was a 'work mom.' But let me back up. To before I fought with the Almighty (it went about as well as you can imagine) and before I learned this dear warrior soul had lost her fight to effing cancer (pardon the reference to a bad word, but you have no earthly idea how much I hate cancer, I promise. It belongs in the pit of hell.)
Let me back up to when this friend showed up for me one evening when I was stuck. Our friendship was a work friendship and I have very clear and strict boundaries about that for reasons I'm not quite sure why. I just don't like seeing people I work with when I'm not at work. I avoid it like the plague. So, see, if I work with you and you were feeling slighted I promise it's not you, it's me. 
But this particular friend I had come to love dearly and would miss whenever she was off. It had become routine for me to take a break from work, wander out to her work area, plop down and be in her world for a bit. Like most great secretaries she damn near ran the place so she was always busy. This didn't stop her from sliding her cell phone over to me as she talked to some irate lunatic on the phone, with the tone of a cucumber, and I would look at whichever photo or video she had pulled up of her grand baby. I can still hear her squeal of delight over one in particular where the little tot was doing a jig and shaking her diapered bottom. She made me watch that one about seven times. 
During this time CJ was a baby and Kaiya was about three and I was a hot freaking mess. I'd show up to work with a sucker stuck to me or baby snot in my hair making it stick up like Mary in There's Something About Mary, only I'm not Cameron Diaz but more like a frumpy version of the daughter from Rosanne, so it wasn't the best look I assure you. This friend had everything at her desk and would primp over me like only a mother can which some frazzled mornings was my salvation.
The evening she showed up I was puttering around on errands with my clunker car when it sputtered and died on me. There I was, on the side of the road with a toddler, while husband was home with the baby. For reasons I can't remember, other than I think it had something to do with the baby, he couldn't come get me. I tried a couple other friends and then, also for reasons I can't remember, I tried this friend. Twenty minutes later there she was. Bright eyed and chipper. Not only did she pick me up and bring me and Kaiya home, she also stopped and got us some food with a happy meal toy for the kid.
It wasn't earth shattering or anything, but I thought of that night and how she was the one to show up for me when she told me she was sick. The way she told me was so precious, because it was fraught with concern for me. The dear woman. Always mothering. She gave herself so fully when you were part of her tribe.
I learned she died at work because I'm taking a Facebook break and so I didn't get a social media heads up and instead read it off as another tidbit of information to my employees. I willed myself to not cry in front of them, and thankfully managed to make it to the parking lot to have a little fit in the privacy of my own car. 
This was the start of the fight with the Almighty. For I had been praying for a freaking miracle for her. Just last week another woman at work had died from cancer and I had just gone to her visitation two nights before. Enough was freaking enough already. 
Then I heard God tell me that I would tell the story of her showing up at her funeral. That it was important to her children that I tell the story. I saw an image of an open mic on a stage. I smiled condescendingly and politely informed God that he was wrong. My workplace does not do funerals the same way my church does. (It's a common occurrence at my church for the pastor to open the mic and let church members tell a story about the deceased- there- you've been warned.) It was a nice thought and all, and sure, I would track down her daughter and pull her aside to tell the story of her mother coming to get me, but I would not be speaking at her funeral- thank you. 
Our workplace has a head chaplain on staff who is an excellent pastor that I love dearly. I have been known to blubber over a cup of coffee to him like a slobbering mess and he then has his 'card ministry' folks send me a lovely handmade card with an encouraging verse on it. The card is still on my desk. This pastor stood up and explained that my friend faced death head on (of course she did, I beamed) but that he had given her some 'homework' that she didn't get to (of course not, I smiled wryly) which was to pick someone to speak at her funeral. 
It was at this point that I began to squirm in my seat. I was already uncomfortable for the head boss was in the row in front of me and I have a tendency to be a complete goofball when I least want to be. This kind of nervousness though was the kind where you feel God pushing you to do something, to step out in faith and go for something. I hate that kind of nervousness. The pastor went on to say, somewhat predictably, that he was going to open the mic up for anyone to come and share a story. I immediately leaped up, using the nervous energy to spring me to action before the rational part of my brain could keep me seated.
It was as I was walking up the stairs with my dress shoes clicking that it occurred to me that the chances of me being a goofball were now drastically rising. I started with a comment about how I would do my best to keep it together and not lose it. Because that always instills confidence. I then told the story, blundering, and probably way too fast. I also could only remember her daughter's name and completely blanked on the boys' names. As I started to walk away I realized I hadn't even introduced myself, so I awkwardly leaned over and said: 'oh yeah! I'm Courtney!' Did I mention the head boss was there? As in like, essentially, the CEO, the big shot, the big cheese, the one person who could fire me?? 
As I walked back to my seat there he was- this boss that can fire me- and he whispered an encouraging 'good job!'as he passed me and also leaned down for a side hug. Only I wasn't prepared and given the angle my cheek ended up brushing against his shoulder. And rubbing off make-up onto it. Oh. Dear. God. This one boss who can fire me now as my make-up on his shoulder. 
I sat down and squinted, trying to see if I could see it. Maybe it was my imagination but I swear I could. Just a tiny glint. Unable to resist telling someone about this major screw up I whispered what just happened to my husband. Who gave me an encouraging and also sarcastic thumbs up. Thanks, babe. 
I slunk down in the seat a bit. I prayed for a sinkhole to open up beneath me and bury me peacefully. This did not happen. I then remembered that I needed to get out of my little drama for there was nothing I could do anyway and I was here to pay respect to a soul far deeper and stronger than I. And that the point had simply been to bring comfort to her children which was way more important than my silly wayward thoughts about being called into the head honcho's office to explain how a light dusting of super pale make-up had wound up on his shoulder.
While passing through the reception line each of her children, and even their spouses, thanked me for my words. Their thanks was sincere and profound. One paused to clasp my hand in both of hers and said 'truly, thank you, those were the perfect words.' I smiled awkwardly as I thought: 'really? But I bumbled and stumbled?' I remembered that God had told me that the children needed to hear them. That he had picked goofball me to speak words of comfort to grieving children was also exactly how God works. For he didn't call the CEOs to follow him but the fishermen. The smelly, uncouth, fishermen. The goofballs. 
Truth be told one of the things I loved so much about this friend was how she embraced her inner goofball with such gusto it made me envious. She had this mischievous glint in her eyes and way of smiling that let you know there was about to be some shenanigans going on and you best join in or get out of the way. But truly one of her best qualities was that she would show up when you needed her. In this era of instant messages and constant connectivity to social media a real person who shows up ready to help at a moment's notice is a rare thing. 
Janice, dear friend, I am so going to miss you. I'm sure you've already carved out an extra nice cloud for yourself and if wouldn't surprise me if you've plopped down just inside the gates of heaven all set to run the place. I can't wait to come plop down on a fluff of cloud and fill you in on the missed years. One day friend, one day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

An 'out of order' death

I have been thinking about death and the order of it, primarily how natural it is for someone to lose a grandparent. And how unnatural it is the other way around.
But what about when the order just gets a little jumbled? Like when a parent goes before or at the same time as a grandparent? How are you supposed to feel then? 
My husband leaves for the hospital again as the kids play. 
'Where is daddy going?' Kaiya asks nonchalantly. CJ answers, in between making rocket sounds for his gun, 'oh, to the hospital. His dad is dying.'
The words hang in the air like Nerf darts from a gun losing its steam.  A few minutes later, and it was like you could hear the wheels turning in his little head, out spits this: 'mom and dad are going to die one day.' I nod, and make a comment to the affect of it being a long ways away. 
Then I remembered being about five and up in my parents' room sobbing that they were going to die. Dad stroked my hair and told me it was going to be a long time from now. Thirty years later I am saying the same thing to my son, who is not dramatically crying but making sputtering rocket sounds. Part of me wants to insert myself into the moment, have there be more drama for some reason, but I gag the little pig-tailed girl and put her back in the closet. 
His acceptance of death will simply not be mine. Plus, my role in the moment is parent this time and not child. It's silly how often I have to remind myself of such things. I guess everyone else just grows up with more grace, for it feels I am forever screaming and stamping my foot: 'but I'M the baby!' 
Six months later I see my father-in-law's face smiling back at me on Facebook. A happy note underneath it: 'done with chemo!' It still startles me each time when I pray that prayer works. You would think that each and every time you fire off a loaded gun you would remember that's how it works- never will 'nothing' happen when there is one in the chamber, but it's hard to remember when the bullets aren't always visible. 
A few days later I'm up looking at Facebook again, checking on the status of a friend's father. I had just learned that he had cancer and had just started to load my prayer gun. Then, instead of seeing if there was more information on how to pray I see instead that I need to pray for her. For he died. Just like that. At fifty freaking six.
My soul screamed out: 'BUT HE WAS THE YOUNG PARENT!!!'
I still remember the distinct feeling of jealousy the first time I went to her house and met her parents. I stared at their young faces smiling back at me and I mentally calculated that most likely they would outlast all the other parents. Most. Likely. The older you get the more you realize there just aren't as many most likelys as one originally hoped for. 
"My mom was telling me that you reach an age where you start seeing old friends at funerals instead of at weddings," my friend said cheerfully as she straightened the bottom of her shirt. My mind mentally shut the door on that statement the first time she said it like it was a salesman in a cheep green suit and I couldn't even be bothered to utter: 'not interested.' No. Just no. I'm not old enough for that stage of life. Nope.
Later, as we drive around the hometown where we were girls together and talk about the stupid things we did and how it's a wonder that we survived, the sentiment gets said again. We keep uttering things like: I'm just not ready for that. 
It was easy to slip back to thinking I was fifteen again with this friend. "What should we do?" She asks when we find the funeral house and see we are ridiculously early. "Wanna go to the mall?" Turning towards me excitedly with a knowing grin. It's a small town. There are basically three legal, and safe, things to do and they are: go to the mall, go to the coffee shop or go to Wal-Mart. Usually we would go to one of the first two. Sometimes we would get crazy and go to the mall and then the coffee shop. 
As we walk in we notice the changes and search like its a treasure hunt for the things that stayed the same. We also notice how small it all is. The mall didn't get smaller of course, we got bigger. We just don't 'fit' in this narrative anymore. Like hobbits coming back from a grand adventure to a quiet town that has no use for adventurous hobbits. 
After making a lap around the mall we realize it's time to go and make our way back to the funeral house. The parking lot is two-thirds full already and we shuffle inside. My friend whose father has died and I had swapped messages about looking through photos and performing the arduous task of piling them up into pretty displays for the service. "Hard" was the word she used and it sticks in my throat with a lump of emotion around it. How do you, in your mid thirties, look through photos of your father to try and 'capture' the essence of his life? 
My mind went to the year prior when I had done the task for my grandmother's funeral. How I tried to make them spread across her whole life and capture as much of it as possible. How two-dimensional colors can't even begin to capture the first glimpse of a four-dimensional soul. I smile at the photos they chose and wonder which ones she had picked out and what memories they stirred up in her.
We shuffle into the pew, and my friend mutters again that this must be so hard for our friend. Who is now greeting the row in front of us, a smile beaming from every atom of her being. It is her best quality, her smiles literally give joy where there was none before. I nudge the friend next to me and point to the friend in front who is warmly greeting each person, "just have her help you- look how good she is at this!" Then I pause, for some reason feeling a need to make sure she knows I want to help when it's time but I can't in the friendly-greeting way: "and let me be the bouncer guarding the door." 
The speaker starts and at one point he touches on how some may be feeling angry at how unfair it is and out of place since he was still young. Time is a funny thing though, for when I was my daughter's age fifty-six seemed ancient. People used to live for hundreds of years, and I imagine back then ninety seemed too young. 
The truth was, it is too young. He is the first parent from our little group to die and we, in our thirties, are too young for it. 
But we are trying to write the adventure part of the story when we are still happily in the Shire. You see, the hobbits didn't start out adventurous heroes, they ended that way. You can't be mad at yourself for not growing when you are growing still, it just does no good to think you aren't ready for something that you don't need to be ready for yet anyway. And maybe, losing a parent, isn't something you can ever really be ready for. 
We are packing up to get in the car and drive back home to Texas. It feels like something is missing and I realize that something is. My friend's dad. The young dad who always had archery stuff out and still smiled and goofed off with his kids even after a long day of work. 
One of my best memories of him was from New Year's Eve about twenty years ago. I was spending the night at her house that night and she winked at me with her trademark big smile beaming and said: "your in for a treat! You get to see how our family brings in the new year!" As if on cue her dad came out holding two pots and started banging them together like he was a little toy teddy bear with cymbals and all he ever does is bang, bang, bang. 
My friend produced a pot and spoon from thin air and handed them to me as she danced off merrily through the yard behind her dad banging pots. I smiled, grabbed the pot, and banged away. I joined the train of them, all led by my friend's father, as we circled around their yard making the most awful racket I had ever heard. 
Part of me wonders if that was his greeting. If there was a little band of angels set up with pots pulled from random drawers in heaven, and when he showed up one handed him a pot and a spoon. If that grin of his that didn't change from the time he was a boy until he died spread across his face and off he set, making a wonderful racket. We think the story ends with death, but in truth, it was when the hobbits just finally break free of the last barrier of the Shire and that they set out on their grand adventure.
So, no, we aren't ready yet to start burying our parents. We want to still be young and have weddings be the occasions for seeing each other. But time only marches forward. No longer are we the kids flopped on the bed despairing at the first mental grasp of the finality of death. Now we are their parents, gently patting their backs and saying "it will be all right, little one." Next we will be patting our parents' hands, telling them the same, as we pray they go mercifully in their sleep and with no more suffering. Right now though, where we are in the blessed middle, is freaking awesome. And it's exactly where we are supposed to be. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Tigers and Fleas

I set the needles, scissors and red thread beside me. It's ironic that I grabbed red. It will be like blood I guess. Positioning the stuffed tiger before me I poke around to find the tear. It's time for tiger surgery. 
CJ sweetly asked me two nights before if I would fix it for him. Just after dinner, when he came to give me a random hug. Curls framing his face in his to-school hair cut. You see it's not 'back' yet because this is his first year. 
It, ironically, was also his first haircut. He even gets a 'baby's first hair cut certificate.' I have to wonder if the stylist was being a smart ass. Of if she is just pragmatic. It was after all, his first haircut. And he is after all, my baby.
The stuffed tiger had been sitting by my bed for months, maybe even a year. Neglected. Torn. Surely this year will be over soon, I guess that's what I was thinking. But here it is another year and so it begins again. More nights. More sleepless days as my body wakes me completely confused about why I'm trying to sleep when it's not time to sleep. 
I won't tell him, my baby, that I agreed to more nights to try and make the schedule slightly better. To be there in the mornings for him. To help with this transition to school. He wouldn't understand it anyway. I don't understand it anyway. 
Except that firsts always come, and heavens if it doesn't seem like more of them come at the end of summer than any other time of year. But when you are experiencing the firsts through their eyes, it changes. For me it's a fierce sort of experience that seems to manifest itself as a lump in my throat and a pit in my stomach. What if he gets bullied? What if he bullies? What if I never make it back to days and have to figure out this awkward rhythm all over again each week?
So I read about the Holocaust. You know, real tragedy. Not more night shift work and starting kindergarten. It settles me in this haunting way. Corrie Ten Boom once thanked God for fleas. Because they crawled all over them, keeping the guards from crawling all over them. Fleas. 
Lack of sleep is my fleas. But heavens if I haven't a clue what harm I'm being kept from. Maybe I should just trust that it's something and that I'm where I'm supposed to be for now. 
That next week, when I walk through the door not too late this time but on time to see him off to school, it will be worth it. He might not understand the flea-size sacrifice I'm making, but when I'm there to hug him off to a new thing it will be worth it anyway. 
CJ walks by to go to the bathroom and grins as he sees the tiger sitting by me. When he returns from the bathroom he pauses to inspect the work and a grin spreads across his face. 
"Are there any other tears son?" 
"Nope, you fixed it!" He chirps happily. I watch as he trots off to bed. It will not always take just some simple red thread to fix things for him. Just like, eventually at the very least when I retire I will get to go back a regular schedule. These are flea-sized problems and there might just be a Nazi-guard-sized reason for them. So I will be thankful.
Oh, and my church is starting a night service this fall. So. There's that. 
Flea-sized blessings every day folks, every single day. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

From the deep

I have been calling it 'writer's block' but I'm not sure that's completely accurate. That would mean I have been trying to write and blocked from it for some reason. I haven't even been trying, truth be told. Currently, I am reading through 'Sorrow and Blood: Christian mission in contexts of suffering, persecution, and martyrdom.' It's as haunting as it sounds. One of the main focuses the current section I am on is challenging the 'prosperity gospel.' I had this smug smile on my face. Yeah, all you people who only profess belief simply to get stuff, I think to myself. I read on.
"Again, I am deeply moved when I consider that 99.4 percent of Scripture was written either from or into contexts of uncertainty, violence, exile, poverty, and weakness." 
That is when it hits me.
The real reason I haven't been writing. 
My words haven't been "Facebook approved." By that I mean, I can't sum up my days in a snappy little sentence. Try as I might to be honest in my living, just like everyone else if I can't put a little pretty bow on it at the end than it just ain't worth it. Lately I'm out of bows. 
Instead of finding snippets to write about I've been slogging through the deep, and my ability to keep tunneling down never ceases to amaze me. When others hit bottom they go, 'oh crap,' me, I get a shovel. And I dig. And dig. 
The kids' dinner antics reaches a crescendo and I screech like a pterodactyl. It is time to get ready for work. I have no answers this time. No take-away. Other than it's probably time to resurface. To start the miles long trek back up out of this abyss I've been in. Maybe it starts with admitting that I haven't had writer's block so much as I've had life block. 
Maybe, this week before the start of another school year, I will not even give it a second thought that in our family I am the absent parent and my husband is the present one. It's just the way it is. I'm there as much as I can be and to expect to be able to be a full time parent while working full time also is ridiculous. 
Instead I will set to this rock wall in front of me, waiting to be scaled, drop the blasted shovel finally, and start my ascent.