Short Sermons

I’m feeling profoundly grateful tonight for the space to breathe and be…

I’m rediscovering parts of who I am, and even better–why I like them the way they are.

And I’m thinking that two of the best sermons that my heart has ever soaked in weren’t sermons (though they were both delivered by pastors), and didn’t sound terribly uplifting at first blush.

The first set of words were spoken right after my Mom died, when my husband was deployed, and I was soaking my pillow each night with grief and lonesomeness, and emotional exhaustion.   I would walk up to my mother’s grave (I was staying at my Dad’s at the time) and look at it and stare and not recognize my life.

And not want my life.

And hate my life.

And hate myself because I hated my life and life was a gift and how dare I?

This pastor that I went and spoke with only once looked me straight in the eye and said, “It’s ok if you hate your life right now.”

Something in me shook loose at those strange, almost  blasphemous words.  But upside down though they were, somehow they gave me the faith I needed to take a halting step back towards God.  Because he still wanted me even in the rawest, messiest truth of my emotions.

He was still in that.  Profoundly wrapped in it.  Not wasting a single shred of the pain, but allowing me to be in it, unabashedly.

A similar sermon, again one line was delivered to me this week by another pastor hearing a spill of my heart and my journey.  I was reflecting on my thoughts about feeling the sting of death.  I mentioned that it troubled me that as a Christian, I was having a hard time getting my heart on board with the feeling of victory over death when I have felt the sting and the fear of it deeply.  And this pastor told me that it was ok to be there.  To not be on board.  To tell God that and then to tell God, but that’s ok.  I love you.  I trust you.  I’m WITH you.  I’m just not there yet on this.

I’m a girl who needs space to own her feelings.

I’m a girl who feels deeply, thinks deeply…  and more than I think I let myself realize most of the time, does life deeply.

I need space to BE where I AM.  To not be shoulded into the easy answers or the theological imperatives.  I need space to acknowledge the reality of heaven, and glory and in the same breath and space to acknowledge the hurt and pain of death and decay in this world.

When the hard, rough, messy parts are embraced, I find that somehow a little piece of my heart goes free.

And I step forward, and lean into the God who sees and knows it all.  I rest into the God who created me and trust the knit-purl pattern of my life.

I breathe with permission for the hurt and the healing begins to trickle and sometimes flood in.

It’s funny how sermons can be so short and sound so upside down and yet set you free.

But it’s those short, raw sermons for which I am grateful tonight.

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Pendulum

One thing that has been steadily true for all of this deployment, and even before that really, is that I have been a sort of emotional pendulum.  That is….  I have a good many steady days.  And then I have days where I am processing something deep (as in…  Feeling the Sting), and then I have days where I am just a wreck.  I can never quite predict which kind of day it’s going to be when I wake up in the morning.

I wrote about this last go around, but nearing the “end” of a deployment I expect… most everyone expects… that “all is well” in that “home stretch”–whatever portion you deem to be the “home stretch.”  But the thing is…  When your husband is on deployment?  He’s gone…  Right up until he isn’t.  It’s still me solo-parenting the girls.  It’s still me juggling the Mom jobs and the Dad jobs.  It’s still me facing the evenings and the weekends and the lonely times without the one that is my other half.  And it’s still hard.  So I wade through that.

I ruminate.  I process big stuff that I haven’t dug in deep enough to process for a long time.  I think that when my husband is gone for months at a time one of the positive things that happens is I kind of sink into center.  I listen to the thoughts in my own head.  I marinate in them.  Which means that in some strange way, I have a better chance of getting brave and dealing with things.  I usually have a couple of months where I really ruminate on our marriage.  This go-around along with that there’s been lots of checking in and saying, “Ok self.  How are you doing with this issue?”  With the seasons of the last few years being so full of things to process, the ruminating keeps me busy to say the least.

Granted with a girl who is as naturally introspective as I, that means I spend a lot of time in my own brain, but there are some good fruits that come from that.

The tough part of the pendulum situation is that I’m friable…  When a day goes south, or the fear-thoughts start running rampant, or a situation that should be simple isn’t, my coping mechanisms are worn down from trudging through on my own for so long.  So… as I mentioned, sometimes I’m a big ole wreck.  When Husband left this go around, I feel like I was just starting to regain my footing from the world of Tomas the Tumah.  The thing is, the follow-up parts of that are lifelong and ongoing, so every time I have an appointment or an ache or a pain my brain starts churning through it all again.

I’ve been having serious hip pain.  For months now. In fact, I remember talking to Husband about it before he left.  Now that I’ve read through the symptoms list I know I’ve been feeling pain at different times possibly since even before I was pregnant with Alaine.  I talked to my endocrinologist about it.  I know it’s ridiculous, but I am still in a window of time where when I feel a pain, I think “tumor.”  At my last follow -up appointment, my incredibly awesome endo reassured me that all was probably ok and wisely diagnosed me with sacro-iliac dysfunction.  He even gave me exercises to do.

But the pain has gotten worse.  So much worse.  Crying in the middle of Wal-mart not sure if I’m going to make it out to the parking lot worse (and then managing to go to Zumba and move like there’s no pain at all a half hour after).  But not all the time worse.  Sometimes it’s ok.  Sometimes I hardly notice it.  When it’s bad though…  whew!  And so I went to the doctor to try to address the issue head on.  The doctor told me I’d need Physical Therapy…  Which is time I don’t have and brings about a new set of logistics to work through.  He prescribed me medicine….  That I still haven’t been able to get from the pharmacy because of the ridiculous long lines that are there each time I’ve gone (last time I made it up to the part where you get the pager….  only to have to go to relieve my sitter so she could pick her kids up from school.  Walking out without the pain meds I needed was a big old bummer).

I wake up with the pain.  It’s really yucky in the mornings.  Getting dressed is excruciating.  I’ve finally wised up and started taking anti-inflammatory meds regularly, but the mornings are just  rough.  I’ve started thinking of the pain as being the place where my fear lives.  And when I feel it, I am fearful.  And sad.  I cry easily.  I worry more.

I’m friable.

And then there are days like today, I woke up, and ordered tickets for my family to visit some loved ones early in the summer.  I organized a special outing I had been promising the girls.  I wrote cards to friends who I thought might need encouragement…  because I needed encouragement and it only makes sense to send out into the world that which we would hope to receive ourselves.

And then I mowed the lawn, cleaned out the garage, cleaned out the van, and swept the kitchen.  Sure I limped a little bit.  But I got it done.

And tonight, I don’t feel friable…  I feel accomplished.  I feel like I’m a woman worthy of the title of Navy Wife who even gets the dirty work done.

Yes, there are days like that too.  More than you’d imagine.  And sometimes, instead of days, they are hours, or moments.  But they are something to carry me.  They are the upswing to the other side of the continuum.

Because…

I’m a pendulum these days…  I never know which side of the emotional continuum I’m going to swing out on.

A Lifestyle of Good-bye

It’s….  Five Minute Friday!!!

The day when we write without thinking too much or hitting the backspace bar too much or trying too hard.

My chest starts getting tight and I have a hard time breathing when his sea bag comes out of the closet and into the living room and the cataloging of ‘stuff that must go’ starts to happen.

We live a lifestyle of good-byes.  There are the big ones that come with the “D-days” of leaving for deployment.  That last kiss that is so soft and salty with tears.  The last feeling of his arms around me for months and months at a time.  He walks into the air terminal and I sit down behind the wheel and don’t turn around again.  I can’t bear to take another second of the against-my-nature forced action of driving the car out of the parking lot, watching the speed limit for base, driving out the gate.

There are the smaller times–detachments that last a couple weeks or a couple of months here and there interspersed.  I still cry over ‘the short ones.’  He is my husband and I want him beside me and all of those short ones add up to a whole lot of time when he’s not.

There are the good-byes we say to family who are so far away.  The good-byes we say to friends when the moving trucks pull up.

It is a lifestyle of good-byes.

But it is also a lifestyle of hellos.  Homecomings and a second and third and fourth helping of ‘first kisses.’  The deliciousness of how his arms feel around me after longing for them for so long and the comfortableness of him by my side all over again.  The joy of new friends.  The excitement of visits.

I’m grateful to be in a space that is closer to the hello than the good-bye.  We have a long way yet to go, but each day is another day closer to the sound of his boots crossing the thresh-hold of the doorway and the feeling  the place that feels most my home–in his arms.

Feeling the Sting

“Where O Death is your victory?  Where O death is your sting?”


That was the litany that wove itself throughout the worship service at my church this Easter Morning.

And it can’t have been an accident that it came as I stand staring down something I’ve wanted to avoid for a while:

A fear of death.

Friends and long time readers know that 7 years ago my Mom died of lung cancer.  And that it pretty much rocked my world. I was 24.  My oldest was four months old.  My husband was gone off and on just prior to her death and deployed for six months a month after.

I grieved hard and long.  Longer than many were comfortable with.  Some people told me that you have to get tough with yourself after about six months and not let it overwhelm you anymore.  Some people just intoned in hushed words that “they were very worried” about me.”

It took time.  Really, I find that grief is a lifelong thing.  Even if the active mourning is more or less over, I still have moments and days where I grieve her.  I suspect I always will.

All I know is that when she died part of my foundation was lost.  One of the anchor points of who I am had drifted out of the world.  As a dear friend of mine described it, I was “unmoored.”

One of the most important things I learned in that journey was that it’s ok to call a spade a spade.  Death?  Is bad.  Grief?  It hurts.  Sickness and pain?  It was not in the original plan for the world.  I became increasingly frustrated with Christian messages that told me to redefine the bad things that were happening to me as GOOD things.  I was supposed to wrap things up in a pretty little bow and say, “This was the hardest experience of my life, but it’s ok because I am stronger for it.  Isn’t God good?”  Or, “What a gift these trials have been to me because they have refined my faith.”

I could then and I do now vociferously get  behind the idea that God was in ALL of it.  That he was unraveling and unwrapping goodness even in the badness.  That he was using the ashes of my decimated soul to bring about a new and different kind of life.  That he could WORK all things for good.  But I could not get behind the idea that all things–losing my mother, watching cancer take over her body, the grief and loneliness that turned me inside out–were BY DEFINITION “good.”

Fast forward five years and there is a third baby on the way and I am a nervous wreck because months prior I’d lost a babe to miscarriage and there is a lump in my neck and the doctor has just had to wikipedia the diagnosis.

The physicians and medical journals dither and dally about how to classify the kind of tumor that I had, but it lands in the ‘cancer’ category eventually.  For the last two years I have been in various stages of living with the specter of paraganglioma.  Initially it was diagnosed and I was jumping through hoops trying to find doctors who understood the disease.  And then I was shuttled into a high risk group for pregnancy and told that labor could cause a hypertensive crisis and that I could not under any circumstances actively push my baby out.  And I had an amazing doctor and the most beautiful birth ever but it was rife with uncertainty and fear.

And then I had the surgery 3000 miles away at an amazing but foreign institution and parts of it were so hard.

And then I was grappling with life after and loose ends and extra questions.  At first they believed I had another tumor on the other side.  And we were ruling out genetic causes.  And one by one we crossed the questions that could be answered off the list until on this past Friday, Good Friday, in some capacity we could finally say, “It is finished.”

But still guardedness, caution, anxiety….  fear…  hang about me.  I want to be carefree and happy about the good news I have received, but the truth is.  I am still scared.  And I don’t want to be too happy only to find out that the journey isn’t over yet.

Furthermore, lately it occurs to me in a deeper way that I am a daughter–an only child–who lost her mother to cancer.  Who sat by her side as tumors ate away at her…  who watched the ugly stages of the progression of the disease.

And I am a woman who had cancer come knocking at my own door.

Stacked together, that’s really kind of huge.

My endocrinologist listens to me patiently.  Answers my long list of questions.  Affirms me for how much I have learned about my disease and how active I am in my care process.  He tells me, “I will be the objective one who realizes you are a patient who is scared of cancer and scared that this will come back.  We will talk things through together.”

I want to reject it outright and tell him that I have done my darnedest to be objective and to write my questions and present myself outside of that fear.

But I swallow hard and realize that he is right.

So I sat this morning and I listened to my pastor say over and over again, “Where O Death is your victory?  Where O Death is your sting?” and I tried to find my place in it.  But instead I felt the fear.

I am a believer.  I believe in the resurrection.  I believe in the redemption of all things…  Of me and my heart….  The redemption of the ugliness of things like grief and death and disease.  I believe that I will see my mother again.

But death?  It stings me.  I have felt the raging ache of loss at my core.  I have cried animal like sobs and lain awake at night re-living my mother’s last days.  I know what it is to move through life with a gaping hole where she should be.

I fear death.  Though I know if it comes to me…  If any of the subsequent aches and pains that I have that scare me enough to go to the doctor, or if any of the scans that I have come back and read that this disease or another kind has come knocking at my door and this time I am not able to stave it off….  I know when the inevitable comes that I will be with Jesus and it will be the most glorious of glorious days.

But I also know my children will know the ache of life without a mother.  And I know that if I can anticipate it’s coming I will grieve the loss of time with them, with my family and time in this beautiful, aching world.

I know, though I haven’t wanted to look at it up to now, preferring instead to keep it in mental generalities and spiritual platitudes, that I AM afraid of death.

I’m just not sure what to do with that right now.   I want to say with Paul and the Psalmist and my pastor, “Where O death is your victory?  Where O death is your sting?”

Right now though I am grappling with the enormity of losing my mother to cancer and then staring it down myself.

Incidentally my other pastor preached the Good Friday sermon.  He asserted that as Christians, we are more free to allow ourselves to feel and express our grief, our sadness, our hurt, and our fear because we know in the end there is victory…  Because we know that what undergirds us always is Christ’s victory over sin and death.  We can feel it all fully because on the other side of that darkness there is hope.

So maybe, in some backwards way, if I let myself sit here where I am…  And if I give myself the chance to do the work and process it, I am still grasping firmly to hope.

In the midst of the fear and the grief and the hurt…  In the midst of the enormity of living on the other side of all of this.  In spite of the fear and the sting I DO feel it is the hope that will allow me the peace and the defiance to say those words to death.  Even if this Easter Day I feel the fear more than the victory.