Posted in beautiful mess, Emotions, freedom, God, hope, sacred, thanks

I Needed Hope Today…TT (Season #01, Episode #05)

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  (the book of Hebrews)

After almost a year of navigating the tumultuous polarization and division that is running rampant on social and regular media from every possible side, and then more recently following both the natural and man-made disasters, last night, I was done in emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  I felt as if I was living in a place and time where there is no hope.  No hope.  Not a good place for this Dolly Mama, the one whose fierce passion is to bring the message of hope and healing.  It’s what I normally shout from the mountaintops.  There’s always hope.  But last night, I was mired in a place believing I might be wrong.   There actually might not be any hope.

My thoughts swirled.  Who is going to fix this?  Why do people hate each other?  What’s with all the natural disasters?  Why do people keep vilifying those they are not in agreement with?  Where is the love?  Doesn’t anyone see that divisiveness will destroy each valuable person?  I was pretty much on a rampage to convince myself that I am wrong to think that there is redemption and hope and healing.  Hopeless might just be a more true place.  Right in the middle of my thoughts running amok, there was a song that kept running through my mind as I turned in for the night and rang loudly again in my head as I woke this morning.  It was one of those catchy tunes you wish you could get rid of but just keeps going around and around and around in your brain.  The words eventually caught hold of my heart as I was trying to tune them out.

There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He’ll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus.

(Click here for the full version but come back and read.)

Having nowhere else to turn and not really liking the place I was in, I made a bold move.  I actually took the song up on the challenge and cried out to God.   I asked Him to bring voices of HOPE, RESTORATION AND HEALING today to my heart instead of voices of fear, divisiveness and destruction.  I needed those voices today.  I needed that healing and restoration.  Many days, I am that voice.  But not today.  I was desperate for those voices from others, those that reflect the very heart of the God of unity, truth, healing, encouragement, kindness, love, hope, peace, joy, patience, all that is GOOD.  I promised Him I would keep track of them if He would just send them to me.

I quickly went right back to a “not-so-good” place and asked myself if I was just purposefully trying to avoid the bad stuff.  Shut it out.  Not deal with it.  Pretend it’s not there.  Go on in my “nice little world” and not have it be shaken up.   That thought deeply troubled me.   I am not sure that my answer was purely 100% “no.”  Life is hard.  Terrible things happen that shake me up.  I get caught up in the drama and the opinions and the tragedies.  The world is suffering and struggling.  I do want to avoid it.  However, a louder voice and a deeper, truer message broke through the darkness of my soul.  God sent those voices today.

On this,  my “Thankful Thursday,” I share them with you.

  • A beautiful sunrise on my walk and talk with wise daughter, Sarah.  She shared her heart for the poverty-stricken children she has in her second-grade classroom day after day.  She loves these kids with every cell in her body.  A voice of HOPE.
  • A text from my dear friend, Cindy, about her love and thankfulness for me and our friendship.  A voice of HOPE.
  • A quick word with my mom about my dad coming through his surgery with flying colors.  I think this man may outlive me.  A voice of HEALING.
  • A letter from my friend Kim in prison pouring out words of truth, grace, mercy, and wisdom far beyond anything I have personally known.  A voice of RESTORATION.
  • A blog post from my online friend Shelby.  A voice of HEALING.
  • A walk and talk with my pastor friend Tracy.  We shared our differences and our similarities with kindness, love and grace, with humility and reason.   A voice of RESTORATION.
  • A hard phone call with my patient husband working through a disagreement that we’ve been struggling with since Monday night.  A voice of HEALING.

I will end with an excerpt from Shelby’s blog post.  She speaks truth, the deeper truth of HOPE, HEALING AND RESTORATION!

“Wherever the Spirit of the Lord is present, He gives freedom. And the Spirit is EVERYWHERE.

God knows we long for freedom—freedom to live and love and laugh and experience the grandeur and beauty of this precious life He’s given us. Freedom from evil, discord, scarcity, oppression, shame.

If we would only look longer into the eyes of every person we meet, friends and foes, perhaps the God in them would have a better chance of connecting with the God in us. Together is the only way we press forward through these moments of suffering. Arm in arm, heart to heart, breath to breath.

Let’s make sure we love…with every fiber of our being.

Love binds, love sustains, love endures, love heals, LOVE WINS.”

(Read her entire post here)

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in anxiety, Emotions, Family, freedom, God, health, Sabbath, sacred

The Myth of Scarcity (and the Hope of Acorns)

“We must confess that the central problem of our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God’s abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity.” (Walter Brueggemann)

It’s happening again.  Acorns are falling from trees.  They are everywhere.

I believe wrong things.  The myth of scarcity is one of them.  It comes pouring into my newsfeed.  My television streams it.  It permeates conversations with family and friends.  My own thoughts teem with it.  Many of my decisions are made because of it.  And it’s downright wrong.  A lie.

The myth of scarcity is the idea that there isn’t enough to go around.  The world (and the God who created it) is lacking the resources to meet our needs.  There’s not enough _______ (you fill in the blank) for me and those I love.  At its root is the monster of fear.   And as we all know probably better than we would like to admit, fear is a slave-making emotion.  My reaction to its demands cause me to hoard, fret, close up and off, control, and protect myself physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Acorns speak something completely different, something that has been true from before the dawn of time.  As I walk down my tree-lined street in these months of the fall, they are strewn everywhere.  They crunch under my feet and get in my way as I try to get my 10,000 steps (see FitBit post).  It’s almost ridiculous how many there are.

One morning, I was fretting over the lack of ________ in our world, and in my own family, and I saw with new eyes these acorns.  They were abundant.  There weren’t enough furry little creatures to gather, store up and eat these acorns in the coming months.  There was a plethora of them.  I was gently reminded again from my loving God about how the world began and how it really works.

The creation account in the beginning of the Bible is the story of God’s generosity.  God’s force of life is loose in the world.  His creation is endowed with fullness of vitality, encouraged to “be fruitful and multiply.”  God’s goodness overflows from His creation.  There is so much abundance and generosity, the time must end in a period of Sabbath rest (my most favorite part).  The myth of scarcity is ultimately debunked.

In the last 24 hours, I went right back to believing the myth.  I became caught up in the lack of personal safety in our world and specifically wondering (okay, looping) whether Rachel will be okay through Hurricane Irma.  I told myself, “my 17 year-old daughter is by herself living in an apartment (well, her two 18 year-old roommates are with her…but that is not helping) 1100 miles away and a big storm is coming.”  At midnight, I went right to “how can I fix this?” and my actions quickly followed.  I scoured the internet for hotels and flights for hours.  Talk about slave-making fear.  I fell back into a fitful sleep hoping for different news in the morning.

The news was the same as I woke, but that didn’t matter to God.  He provided an initial text from a good friend saying Rachel could come to Atlanta and stay with him and his girls.  An acorn.  Another text came from a friend in Sarasota saying their home was open and they have water and a generator.  Another acorn.  A third text came later from the same friend that she went to Costco and loaded up for the weekend with more than enough food and water.   More acorns.  (This was not what I was seeing on the news.)  And now I have come to find out, it’s her husband’s birthday on Saturday.  There will be a celebration in the middle of it all.   A whole oak tree.

It doesn’t matter what the news is saying in Florida right now.  It’s the myth of scarcity: “Not enough food, not enough water, not enough gas.”  But God has spoken what’s true.  He’s got all the acorns in the world.  He is filled with abundance and generosity.  He is never lacking.   And He will do “exceedingly abundantly above all that I could ever ask or imagine.”  And you know what, because of His generosity,  I might just be able to take my own Sabbath rest in the middle of it all.  I needed these acorns today.  I hope you have some too.

(One caveat.  I know this is not Family Friday worthy.  I’m sure you can forgive me.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Childhood, Family, God, joy, love, Parenthood, Pennies, sacred, thanks

Pennies

“The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny?”  (Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek)

Allen hatched a plan at dinner one night many moons ago.  He had been reading the above book (worth the read) and was captivated by an anecdote about a game Dillard used to play in her childhood. She tells the story of how she used to hide her own “precious penn(ies)” in nooks or crannies in trees or sidewalks, drawing chalk arrows to them so a stranger would find the surprise penny and pick it up.  Many times, she would lie in wait to catch a glimpse of the excitement in the finder’s eyes.

Allen’s favorite thought, just like Annie Dillard, was that there are “unwrapped gifts and free surprises” straight from the heart of God, just waiting for us if we open our eyes to see them.  Thus came Allen’s mission for our family:  find these pennies every day and tell us about them at dinner.

What started as a game ended up changing our lives.  Each one of us searched and found many things each day that we believed were “strewn by the generous hand” of God Himself, “surprises” just for us He had hidden along the path, many times with “big arrows” signaling where we might discover them.  We had things like flowers, actual pennies (those were super fun to find), frogs, the best parking space at the mall on a rainy day, butterflies, a kind word from someone, scoring an unexpected goal on the soccer or field hockey field, etc.  Sometimes, we would joke that what we had been given was a “nickel,” a “dime” or even a “quarter,” depending on the magnitude of what it meant to us.

Maybe I’m the only one here, but I have a confession to make.  My life (and mostly my head) is filled with negativity from the news, struggles in my home, animosity on social media, work-place uncertainty, sickness and even the death of those I love, all things that  consume me by what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.  And really, truth be told, it causes me to doubt whether or not there is a God who is alive and who actually loves us people down here on this beautiful, but hurting planet.

As the events of the past week unfolded, my mind traced back (and thankfully did so) to the game we played for a whole year at our dinner table, the one that changed my life and maybe can change it again.  Are there terrible things?  Yes.  Are there sad things?  Yes.  Are there things that are just downright wrong?  Yes.  But are they the only things? NO!

I don’t want to stick my head in the sand, but I also don’t want to be swallowed up either.  I want to wisely navigate that tension between the bitter and the sweet of life, compassion rising within me in the bitter and joy enveloping my heart in the sweet.

One does not negate the other.  They both matter.  They both have their place in my day. I would venture to say, however, that I don’t have to look very far to see the bitter.  I am bombarded from sun up until sun down.  And that’s why I want to open my eyes, like Annie Dillard implores me, to search for the sweet, find it, and name it.  Those “pennies” might be just what I need.  And they just might quiet those doubts and remind me of a God who is alive and loves little old me, a God who has put special pennies all throughout my day, pennies just for me.  This is a soothing and healing balm for my soul.

Will you play this game with me, even if it’s just for today?  Pennies from heaven.  Mine today was a beautiful view of the James River from outside our train window on the way to Florida taking Rachel to college.  What was yours?

img_7862

Posted in Emotions, grief, love, sacred, suicide, taboo

Grief – A Friend’s Story (Railroaded)

“There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.” (Aeschylus)

I sat in the car on a long trip, asking questions and listening.  Hard questions.  Painful questions.  The friend I was traveling with had lost her teen son to suicide only 14 months earlier.  The sacred beauty that poured out was mesmerizing and heart-changing.

Most of my life, I avoided all things about death.  One of my close friends in high school lost her battle to depression and died by suicide when we were in our 20s.  After that excruciating pain, I vowed to avoid all suffering, especially death.  It worked for many years.  I was not confronted with the horror until last summer.  And as you read in my first grief post, it came on full-force.  So much loss.  To so many.  People I loved.  People I could not avoid.

I decided to go deeper.  Lean in.  Experience pain.  Go to the hard places with those I cared for.  Seek to understand and learn and change and grow and plunge into the depths of all that it means to be human (including profound loss).

During our car ride, I asked this friend to share her thoughts in written form.  I wanted to pour over, pray over, learn from and understand this shadowy part of life.   Two days later, I received a Facebook message from her, sharing her current grief and continued suffering, trying to make sense of what had happened to her.

I encourage you not to click away and avoid, but listen with your heart and share her sorrow with your soul.  Come into the shadows, where hardship is, but where beauty lies, where suffering is, but the sacred is revealed.  I warn you.  Grief is beautiful and terrible and wonderful and necessary all at the same time.  Here is some of her heart.  

Nothing about my life is the same since my son died. Nothing. Yes, he is gone, but it is much more than that. My friend asked me one day if I felt “railroaded.” Yes, that’s it. Railroaded.

Before my son’s death, I had two kids who attended school and played sports. I hopped from here to there providing taxi service as well as being a spectator of those sports. I spent my weekends on a soccer field or at a cheer competition or sang at church. A free weekend was rare. I was a business owner who worked 4-5 days a week. I worked out five days a week and watched what I ate. I had just lost about 35 pounds and felt great. I spent evenings on the couch with my kids watching our favorite shows. I organized a charity Christmas party every year that we as a family participated in and Dad was Santa. We vacationed one week a year in the tropics and one week at the Jersey Shore. I planned girls’ nights. I went out with friends. All summer long, friends would be over for BBQs and the pool.  I was the life of the party.

After.  I don’t even know where to begin. My daughter got one too many concussions and had to quit her sport. I do not have to taxi anymore. I am not on a soccer field or at a cheer competition on the weekends (unless we go to watch friends). I do still sing at church. That’s one thing that IS the same.

Work is tough. Feeling like I can’t function and am just not up to doing things, it falls through the cracks. I do what I absolutely have to, but my regular work schedule is thwarted.

I work out as much as I can, but often not the five days I would like. If I feel bad mentally, I push through and go, but if I feel bad physically, I often don’t make it.

I feel, like my friend said, railroaded.

Eating. Another area that has been railroaded. Food. It’s what people bring when someone passes. Food. For months after. Food. Please don’t get me wrong. I greatly needed and appreciated all the food. If it weren’t for those friends who brought meals, I’m not sure any of us would have eaten. It is just much harder to eat the way you know you need to. Days turned into months and months into more than a year.

Railroaded. There are still shows that I watch with my daughter. But it just isn’t the same watching things without my son. Sometimes during Survivor I still get teary-eyed.

The Christmas party lives on. It was just different this past year. It felt railroaded as well. It was hard to plan because my son’s birthday is in December and I couldn’t do it that day. We struggled for the right day, but we did it because the kids would miss it. Dad was still Santa.

Vacations. Another victim of the railroad. We all did go to Florida last year. My husband and I were tourists, and our daughter spent her time at a cheer competition. Even though we were all there, it didn’t seem like a family vacation. There was the trip to Costa Rica that wasn’t. Cancelled at the last minute. It was just too hard to go without our son and brother. There was the attempt at Vegas for Christmas. We were there less than 24 hours. Too much anxiety and pain. We ended up coming home and blessing some homeless people in the midst of our pain. The Jersey Shore. I miss it so. I spent one weekend in early June and have not been there since. I miss a beach house and boardwalks with our family and friends. No more boardwalks, just railroads. I miss true family vacations.

My social life. Railroaded. I don’t want to be Julie the cruise director any more, planning a fun night for friends. Sometimes I turn down invitations because I don’t feel good. I miss being carefree and going out with friends. I miss feeling good.

As I contemplated my friend’s word, I realized it meant even more than she intended. This all started the night my son died on train tracks. My life has been, in more ways than one, railroaded. I hope that some day I won’t feel so lost and off kilter. I know that through all of this, God has held me in his hand and He has not let me go. That is the only thing that is keeping me on the tracks.

My response to her:

This is a good start to getting your feelings out there.  It makes so much sense to me.  It’s good to speak of losses and to say them out loud.  It gives a beautiful glimpse at the real stuff that makes up grief.   It is so good for me to hear and learn from you and share your pain.  It brings me both sorrow and healing.  I pray your sharing would bring you some measure of healing.

For those of you who have loved fiercely and lost someone precious to you, I pray that you would find a safe space to share your true heart, the one that might be hurting.  I pray that those who listen would dive deep and sit still and share some measure of your grief and suffering.  I pray that in God’s vast wisdom, compassion, kindness, mercy and love, He brings unfathomable healing to each of us in the places only He can reach.

To my friend who was willing to put her heart out there today, thank you.  You have given me the gift of yourself and there is nothing greater.  I am asking God to give you many good gifts straight from His heart to you today.

 

 

Posted in Emotions, God, sacred, thanks

TT (Season #01, Episode #04)

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.”  (Melody Beattie)

Which one of us, given the question, “Do you want more healing in your life?” would answer, “Actually, I want more destruction.”  My son, Josh, broke his hand a few years ago.  He was given a super teeny cast (the “Michael Jackson one-glove look”).   The doctor, as usual, (like I hadn’t heard this at least a thousand times before…after all, I raised four children) said, “follow my instructions and it will heal.”

We all know what it’s like to receive, from our wonderful and smart health care providers, that long sheet of paper spelling out all the instructions to make sure healing happens (and some of us… I won’t say who… do a better job than others at following them).  I knew this at the time.  I wanted Josh’s hand to heal throughly and quickly.  (After all, now he would have an excuse not to empty the dishwasher.)

Being the cynical person that I am, I wondered about the point of this miniature cast.  After all, look at it.  It’s ridiculously small and I’m not even sure it’s doing much of anything.  Did it even matter?  Could he get healing without the cast?

IMG_1672

However, being the rule-follower and anxiety-ridden person that I am, we followed the instructions to a tee.  We certainly did not want more destruction of the hand.  We both wanted healing.  And we both trusted that this wee cast would provide the right environment for it.

The right environment.  Hmm.  Now there’s a thought.  This bitty cast doesn’t heal his hand.  All it does, even super teeny, is provide the right environment for the healing to occur.  The cast doesn’t get in there and cause the bones to be “remodeled” (I know this term from watching 12 years of Bones episodes).  That comes because our bodies, given the right environment and care, have been designed by God to heal themselves.

More thoughts.  Can this apply to more areas than the physical?  Has God given our souls, minds and hearts the ability to heal if they are in the right environment?  I believe an emphatic YES.  Do they have to be huge?  I believe an emphatic NO.

This cast gave the room for healing.  What environments, even if they are not grandiose, but small, can I give to myself to make room for healing?

My whole blog is dedicated to hope and healing.  I would be amiss if I didn’t tell you that this morning, I need some of that myself.  It’s been a long, emotional week (as some of you who have read my blog know… and for those of you who don’t, check out anxiety post and murder post) and I am quite exhausted from it all.  I said to my husband this morning, “I just feel out of sorts and out of control.”  I sat down to write.  Process.   And guess what?  Next up (and I would imagine this isn’t a coincidence), Thankful Thursday.

I looked at my thankful app (that awful red notification circle was glaring on my phone).  I realized I hadn’t written one last night.  And to tell you the truth, I didn’t want to play catch up.  I didn’t really have anything.  Yesterday had been difficult.  But of course, God is wise and super loving.

The thought came out of nowhere.  Is thankfulness one of the environments that brings healing?  I began to look it up.  It is true.  There are about a million (okay, just a slight exaggeration) actual scientific studies to back this up (don’t want to bore you, but check this article out).

God reminded me that it might just be what I need this morning, even though super small, to bring some healing today.  No.  It’s not magic or formulaic (believe me, I have lived a lifetime of that destructive line of thinking). But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s GOOD.  So here goes.  Join with me.

  • My oldest brother turned 60 (and don’t get any ideas of how old I am…he’s the first born and I am the baby… like the super baby).  We got to surprise him and share Ethiopian food.  I was able to watch him become overwhelmed with the love of his family and friends.  He might have even shed a tear. Highlight of the summer.
  • A long lunch and talk with a friend from high school who I hadn’t seen for 30+ years that I thought might not go so well.  After all, she had her act together even then (in a kind of straight-laced, smart, preppy, godly way) and I certainly didn’t (in a bouncy, talk-too-much, all-over-the-place, boy-crazy way).  It was wonderful and beautiful.  Our hearts connected as we shared our similar journeys of brokenness and redemption.  A true gift for me.
  • Rachel’s wisdom tooth surgery and healing went off without a hitch (and this is no small feat in her never-ending saga of tooth infections and emergency extractions).  It’s the small things sometimes.  The not-end-up-in-the-emergency-room things.
  • Celebrating the wedding of our friends’ son.  Watching young love blossom.  Their commitments to God and each other.  The roasts (I mean toasts).  Shoe games.  Gorgeous weather for an August Saturday.  Reminders of our own love and commitment.  Continued thankfulness for Allen and our 26+ years.
  • A rainy Monday provided for the day I woke up with a sore throat.  Cozy rest.  A nap when I needed it.  Rain makes me feel safe inside.  Long story.  Thankful.

Here’s to asking God to do only what He can do.  I can’t bring healing to myself.  Only He can.  That’s his job.  And my job?  To follow the instructions of the Great Physician.  Listen to His heart for me.  Place myself in environments so that He can do His job.  It’s not a formula.  It’s not magic.  I’m not even sure how it all works.  But I do know this, celebrating and speaking out and reminding myself of all that I am thankful for is GOOD.  And I will take it today.

 

 

 

 

Posted in freedom, God, murder, prison, sacred

Kim (A Prisoner on the Outside, but not on the Inside)

“If the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”  (Jesus)

My college roommate and best friend at the time murdered her husband on Valentine’s Day, 1998.  Even though it was a famous and well-publicized murder, I never knew until recently that she was serving a life sentence in a Maryland correctional facility.  We had spoken just a couple of years prior to the murder, but we lost touch, mostly because we had both moved and it was before social media (snail mail just didn’t cut it in those days).

Fast-forward to this past January when I spoke at a women’s group telling the story of my  continuing redemption and restoration.  I hadn’t thought of this friend for several years, but some things that we shared (not such good things) were a huge part of my redemption story and I shared them with this group.  Just FIVE days later,  I commented on a friend’s Facebook post and received a quick response, “Are you the Esther Maret that roomed with Kim Aungst in college?”  I recognized her as Kim’s high school friend, Rachelle.  Quickly, I private messaged her and said yes.  I couldn’t believe Kim’s name was coming up again.  I asked if she was still in touch and how I could reach her.

Her next message: “As for Kim, we are still friends but it is a long, sad, crazy story. She was convicted in 1999 of killing her husband. If you Google Kimberly Hricko, you can see part of the story. (I know some of you are clicking… don’t forget that you are reading what the media wants you to know and don’t forget to come back!!!) At first I wasn’t sure if she did it but she has since admitted she did. I am pretty much the only friend from that period of her life that stood by her. I just felt that regardless of what she did, she needed someone. She has since turned herself to Jesus and is helping others in prison. She has a daughter who I kept in touch with. She was like a niece to me. She is married and has a daughter.”

A few more messages were exchanged.  My body started to tingle all over.  I was overwhelmed at the heart of Rachelle who had unconditionally loved Kim, but my mind went to how this could have happened.  Two young girls sharing a dorm room at a Christian college.  Best friends.  The transfer after freshman year to separate schools.  One goes on to marry, raise a family and do normal things (that would be me).  The other kills her husband and is in jail for life.  I spent the better part of a week sorting through my feelings and decided to write her a letter, convinced that God had brought her back into my life.  Would she respond?

Mustering the courage to tell Kim that my heart was broken for her and that I wanted to see her, I penned a short letter, enclosing a picture of our family, telling her bits about myself, promising not to judge her, explaining that I just wanted to be hear her story and be her friend again.

It took weeks to get a reply (snail mail in jail is extremely snailish).  She wanted to see me.  Relief washed over me.  I met with Rachelle for breakfast and spent the better half of the morning getting reaquainted, sharing the stories of our lives and making a plan to go see Kim together.

That happened this past Thursday.  A four-hour trip to Jessup, Maryland (Rachelle almost not getting in because of  bra hooks that set off the metal detector), a one-hour visit with smiles, stories, and quick hugs, and a four-hour trip home.

Early Thursday morning, I  prayed that I would bring healing and restoration to Kim and that I would (wait for it…okay, it’s hard for me) listen, listen, listen.  But, of course, God had something else up his sleeve.

The moment I saw her sitting in the visiting room at the sterile table, my heart leapt for joy.  As we spoke, she was the same Kim, kind, funny, smart, interesting and my friend.  The three of us spoke for the hour, reminiscing, sharing stories of ourselves, our thoughts, our families, and she shared about life in prison.  It was fascinating, to say the least.   Here are little glimpses of her life:

  • She works and makes $3.45 a day as a layout engineer using CAD software.  She designs office space for municipalities and has even done some dorm layouts for the University of Maryland.
  • She has to buy all her own toiletries.  Tide Pods are $6.99 for a small box.
  • She lives in the most privileged section of the prison because of good behavior.  She has a TV (with an old antenna) and a DVD player.  She has seen reruns of the TV shows where she is featured countless times.
  • She has a pet cat named Lynn.  The local shelter has partnered with the prison to allow inmates to care for a dog or a cat which goes with them to freedom if and when they get out.  (litter box right in the cell)
  • She started a book club (that has now spread to three or four other prisons) where college professors come and teach.  Her favorite book is Life of Pi.
  • She speaks to victims’ families and allows them to ask her any question.  This is designed to bring understanding and the potential for forgiveness and healing.

The story of her heart was even more fascinating.  She has come to the place where she has taken ownership, admitted guilt, and sought ways to contact her husband’s family to ask for forgiveness.  She has hope that (and it would truly be a miracle) one day there might be some kind of healing between them.

I was confused and amazed as to how she had gotten to this place.  How had she worked through all the shame and guilt.  I mean this is big stuff.  Like huge stuff.  Way out of my league stuff.  Why is she okay?  And not just okay.  She actually used the word “blessed.”  I received a little peak at part of the answer.

We spoke about how God’s heart is NOT for retribution, but for restoration.  His desire is not to punish her, but to redeem her (or any of us for that matter).  She knows this life-changing truth at the core of her soul.  He loves her no matter what she has done.  He is restoring her.  Not to freedom on the outside (both literally and figuratively), but to freedom on the inside (both literally and figuratively).  WOW!  Just WOW!

It all hit me like a tons of bricks:  this is why Jesus came.  Freedom for the prisoners (Luke 4:18).  Not the outside kind, but the inside kind.  And no circumstance or failure (even premeditated murder) or brokenness is too much for Him.  He doesn’t discard anyone.  He never sees anyone as beyond hope.  He can free anyone, even normal me.  This is His main business.

I prayed very differently on Thursday night.  This time it was not that I would bring healing to Kim, but thanksgiving that she had brought a little more healing, freedom and restoration that day to little old me!  Surprise!

(By the way, I received her permission to share all of this.)

 

 

 

Posted in beautiful mess, Emotions, Family, grief, sacred, suicide, taboo

Grief – One Friend’s Journal Entry (For Steven)

“True love between two human beings puts you more in touch with your deepest self.  The pain you experience from the death of the person you love calls you to a deeper knowledge of God’s love.  The God who lives in you can speak to the God in the other.  This is deep speaking to deep, a mutuality in the heart of God, who embraces both of you.”  (Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love)

Grief.  Most of us try our very hardest to shy away, or even run away from it.  We question what to say when someone is grieving.  We are unsure how often or even if to “bring it up” once life supposedly goes “back to normal.”  We don’t know what to expect from ourselves or what the other might need from us.  Should we come close or give the other space?  It can be a very confusing time for everyone.  And truthfully, if I can speak candidly about myself,  I don’t like to be in pain or be with others in pain.  It’s just downright uncomfortable.

The past couple of years have been filled with family and friends who are grieving.   And like most things in my life, I am not an avoider.  I want to throw myself headlong into the process, engage in it, learn from it, deal with it.  After all, it’s fairly new to me and I’ve heard that it’s horrible, sacred, beautiful intimate, and gut-wrenching all at the same time.

I lost my own sister-in-law, Denise Maret, just under a year ago, after a year-and-a-half long battle with colon cancer.  My brother and 19-year-old niece are left to raise my nine- and ten-year-old nephew and niece, along with the help of their grandparents.

My friend lost her precious brother to suicide.  He has left behind a wife, three children and two grandchildren and her heart is broken.

Our friend and former babysitter lost both her dad and her husband to cancer during her two pregnancies and she is left to raise two young children alone.

I reconnected with someone on Facebook who lost her only son to teen suicide.  This was the second time she lost a child, the other, a daughter, in early infancy.

A friend from church battled kidney cancer for many years.  His wife faithfully cared for him, only to lose him.  He missed his step-daughter’s wedding by only three short months.

One of my best friends from high school lost both of her daughters, her only children, in a tragic car accident on Good Friday.  They were only 19 and 20 years old, absolutely stunning girls, one only 10 days away from her college graduation.

You have your own stories.  So much horror.  So much sadness.  Grief multiplied.

This is probably where you want to click off, log out, go find puppy videos on the internet.  Me too.  At times.  But not today.  Come with me.  Lean in.  Learn along side of me.  Today, we will catch just a glimpse inside the world of my friend, Annie, who lost her baby brother to suicide at just 51 years old.  I promise you that it’s not all horrible.

When she first shared this journal entry with me, my heart was filled with horror, joy, sorrow, connection, injustice and comfort.  Yes.  All of those things.   Loss feels raw and sad and terrible and wrong, but also sacred and beautiful and precious.  Entering in to the pain allows our hearts to be touched with a deeper knowing and beauty that we will miss if we click away.  I ask that you would read on.

Annie’s Journal Entry on 6/17/2017.  Four months later.

Steven is gone.  He is gone.  He is gone from me.  How can this be?  How can he be gone, just gone?  I don’t feel disconnected from him . . . but definitely disengaged.  He is not here to hope, or dream, or plan for a future together.  All those things are gone.

My connection to a future here that includes him is gone, and nothing will take its place.  It is an empty space…and it will stay empty.  It is a space that holds his absence and my missing him.  My own future will always hold this empty space.  I am suffering.  I will suffer, but I will not be destroyed or left desolate by an empty space.

This empty space where Steven is missing is a sacred place.  I would rather have this sacred, empty space than no space at all.  Our love and connection to each other created a space for our future together.  If there had been no love and connection, there would be no space – – and I am thankful for it, for our empty space . . . for my empty space.

I am thankful for all the other spaces, the other spaces that are full – – beautiful, cherished spaces filled to bursting with love and life and memories.  Memories of the two of us.  All the precious moments we had together and apart-but-connected.  All the treasured memories we had together with others.  Those spaces are filled up and will stay full . . .
nothing will change that.

I don’t have you with me now my Steve, my beloved Steven, but I am forever grateful for you – my one time little brother, my forever friend.