Mother’s Day, Magnolias, and the Final Stage of Grief Observed

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I have written a considerable amount on grief and loss over the last several years as a result of my Mom’s death in 2011. (Here and here for example)

This season has always been one of those painful reminders of the loss of my mother for three reasons. Magnolia’s, Mother’s Day, and the anniversary of her death. My Mom loved Magnolias and I used to pick them for her frequently. They are in full bloom this time of year. Mother’s Day was this week and of course that is a very “in your face” reminder that my mother is gone. Then June 3rd rolls around and the date just carries extra weight.

A strange thing happened this year though. It can only be described as the absence of the often dull but sometimes sharp pain of grief. In place of this emotion would be best described as acceptance. The final stage of grief (or so I have read).

Acceptance

Acceptance of death is a very interesting thing to experience. I think we all can intellectually accept death. To me this is better described as understanding. For example, I understand how planes fly but I would be a dangerous pilot. We all understand things, but I think experience makes acceptance mutually exclusive, especially in this situation.

For the past 6 years, I have sought to actively engage my grief and I believe it has been a very healthy effort. I would encourage you to do the same once you do experience loss or if you are currently dealing with it. Acceptance will come in time. And if it is anything like mine, it will surprise you.

Knowing Joy

In some ways, this acceptance has given birth to a new sort of joy. I experience joy by knowing what eternal life actually means. Joy through knowing just a tiny glimpse of what faith in Jesus Christ means. Joy through knowing my Mom walks healthy and free and I will see her again.  This knowing is like knowing someone as opposed to knowing about someone. This knowing is like knowing your closest friend. This knowing is like feeling the heat on your skin versus just hearing it’s 100 degrees outside.

With this knowing, you just feel it in your soul.

Viewing Life through Death

The acceptance of death informs my view of life. It shines a spotlight on my life and forces me to ask a very significant question:
Where or in Whom do I place my trust while living? Faith in Christ was made real in my Mom’s death, but what about in my life?

I read Psalm 25 this week and verse 1 exploded off the pages (amazing how that happens sometimes).

In you, Lord my God,
I put my trust.

This verse captures the answers to the question perfectly. And I think in this season, this season of acceptance, I now know a critical truth of faith in Christ.

I place my trust in the Lord for my death, and I place my trust in the Lord for my life.

And just like before, with this knowing, I feel it in my soul.

What I Learned From A Few Hours of Kayaking

I went Kayaking a couple weeks ago with my Fiancee Sarah. She loves to Kayak. I love the outdoors and being with her, so kayaking is a win-win for both of us. We were joined by some friends of ours. A couple a little over a year into their marriage.

We arrived to the lake and met our guide. Loaded into the kayaks and set out onto the water. We then spent the next 2 – 3 hours exploring the area. As is the case in situations like this, I found myself extrapolating life lessons from the experience. Perhaps it was the struggle of kayaking against the wind, or coordinating our movements to advance the kayak forward. I am not sure, but the struggle seems to bring out some of the best lessons.

Anyway, in the midst of all this I realized something. This experience, kayaking with Sarah, is much like marriage.

Follow me on this:

I set out confident in my abilities to kayak. I mean, come on, I am an Eagle Scout. I have spent my fair share on the water with a paddle in my hand. (And by fair share, I mean a few trips with my troop and enough to earn a Merit Badge in Canoeing). I may not be Moana’s brother, but I felt pretty good about myself out there on the water.

Needless to say, there were times when we struggled. We struggled coordinating our pace and direction, navigating narrow canals, and often found ourselves off track as a result.

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Meanwhile, our friends seemed to cruise through the water. I want to chalk it up to the kayak or some other factor, but truth be told I think they were in sync much more often than we were. They navigated the same canals with relative ease and moved rather quickly over the open water, even into the wind.

We alternated positions in the kayak. One person taking the lead seat (which, according to our guide, was largely responsible for paddling their tail off to propel the kayak forward) and the other in the rear seat (largely responsible for direction while adding some paddling power when they could).  I started out in the rear seat, then transitioned to the lead seat. Both were challenging for different reasons, but I gained an appreciation for how hard Sarah worked as the “engine” shortly after assuming control of the lead seat. You see, it was easy for me to sit in the rear seat and think to myself “I bet we would be moving faster if I were up there…”

As it turns out, where I was in the boat had very little impact on our success.

Fortunately, we improved with time. Communicated better, coordinated our movements, navigated the narrow canals with relative ease the 2nd time around. As a result, the 2nd half of our kayaking excursion was much better than the first. We were a team. As a result, we went farther, faster, together. The amazing thing is the fact that we accomplished this after hours of exhaustive struggle. We truly were better together. The main contributing factor was not our position in the kayak, but how well we coordinated our efforts. When in sync, we glided through the water. Out of sync, we slammed into the canal walls and zig zagged across the water like a novice sailor on the open sea.

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I think marriage is going to be a lot like that. I am going into this season confident in my skills, abilities, and experience. Much like with kayaking, I am sure I will be humbled VERY quickly when it comes to marriage. There will be times when we struggle to communicate, navigate challenging situations, and find ourselves off track. We will slam into canal walls and zig zag all over the place. We will be exhausted from our efforts if we do not work together as a team.

However, we will also experience the triumph of cruising through the water that comes from working together. We will go further, faster, together.

 

Observations on the Passing Scene – 3.4.17

I am constantly making observations about the world around me, but have rarely shared them in writing. I usually reserve them for candid conversations with those who help me process my observations to the point of understanding. I value this practice, because it seems like we can lose sight of the shifting environment around us.

And just like the frog slowly boiling in the pot of water, we can be surprised by how sharply yet subtly our surroundings have changed.

The current state of affairs in our nation has lead to some interesting observations.

Not-my-President’s Day:

Donald Trump is a polarizing President in already polarized times for our nation.

I voted for him. He was not my first choice, but nonetheless I voted for him. I was as surprised as anyone when he won (and I have my electoral predictions to prove it).

And based on our process, he was elected President. Now, nearly half the nation did NOT vote for him, so I recognize the sentiment behind rejecting him because he does not represent your vote.

However, he is still the President. He may not represent your values or your vote, but he is in fact your President.
This may be troubling to you, and I understand that.

This sentiment is widely expressed, but is there any room for this for us? (By us, I mean followers of Christ)

I would argue no. Because we know that the Lord establishes those in positions of authority (Romans 13).  We are all subject to the law and to the government officials placed in positions of authority.

I think it would be wise for us to take a step back and ask: Am I being a source of division, or a source of unity?

Our nation is divided enough as it is. This same nation needs to see a united Church, looking to Jesus for answers, because looking to Washington DC will leave us lacking every time.

Lawlessness:

Why have we become so comfortable with the breaking of laws?
Lawlessness is almost celebrated in our current culture. We have even had government officials allowing riots and the destruction of property to continue without taking action in a timely fashion.

Consider that: the very people elected to uphold the law allowing lawlessness to continue much longer than it should.

This is troubling to me.
Why? Because to me it reflects the subtle but steady moral decline of our society. This is not a social issue. This is not a political issue. It is a spiritual issue.

If you don’t believe me, at least take a quick look at your Bible and see all of the times lawlessness is mentioned.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.
1 John 3:4

You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; this is why God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of joy rather than Your companions.
Hebrews 1:9

These are just a couple of examples pulled from the countless in Scripture. It is humbling to consider how the continual, ongoing practice of sin is tantamount to lawlessness.

Pretty serious stuff here.

Disagree without being Disagreeable

I was having a conversation with a few friends of mine who represent the opposite end of the political spectrum. We were having a candid conversation about the current state of affairs. I stated my positions, they stated theirs.
And in all of this, something amazing happened.

We didn’t fight, curse, snarl, character assassinate, name call, etc. We simple left the conversation and went on our way with a better understanding of opposing views.

It seems we are losing this art. The art of disagreeing without being disagreeable.

How do we regain this ability? Outside of just generally being respectful of everyone, I have discovered that it helps to practice empathy. A simple “Why?” can go a long way in aiding understanding.

Consider your background.
When I consider mine, it is not a surprise that I hold more conservative views.

I was

  • Raised in the Southeast
  • By middle class Christian parents
  • Including a father in law enforcement
  • And then I joined the military at age 20

I went to one of the most progressive universities in the country but that experience could not overwhelm the factors mentioned above.
My worldview was set. And the person you are talking to/disagreeing with, has the very same set of inputs influencing their views.

Disagree without being Disagreeable.

My Word for 2017

“For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”

2 Chronicles 16:9

For the past few years I have adopted the practice of selecting a word for the year. Last year it was new, the year before that it was steadfast, and the year prior to that it was sacrifice.

This year, the word I have selected is fully. My purpose in selecting this word was very simple: I want to be a fully committed follower of Jesus. The question I have asked myself is “What does it mean to be fully committed in —insert aspect of my life—?”

In other translations of the verse above, the word fully is written as perfect and can be defined as whole.

We can all relate to this image. Imagine if our level of commitment to the Lord was represented by this battery icon, what would yours look like?

In your relationships? In your finances? With your time? What does fully committed look like to you?

The Bible has a lot to say about the devotion of our hearts. Consider this sobering excerpt about the wisest man ever –

“As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.”

What did Solomon do as a result of this?

He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.”

There are always consequences to our actions. What were the consequences in the case of Solomon?

“The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.”

So the LORD said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.

Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son.”

1 Kings 11:4-6, 9, 11-12

Consider the greatness of Solomon. Consider the wisdom of Solomon. Even he suffered the consequences of a divided heart. How is this possible?

Consider the consequences for King Asa in 2 Chronicles 16:9. His foolish actions as a result of partial devotion to the Lord resulted in serious negative consequences.

Consider the image below. A compass. When using a compass it is critical that you are pointing in the right direction. It becomes even more critical the farther you travel in the direction you choose. A minor mistake at the outset can lead you astray by a huge margin as you travel great distances.

Our lives are like that too. I think this is why the Lord is looking for fully devoted followers, because partial devotion still leads us astray as we travel great distances in our lives. It seems that partial devotion is really no devotion at all because you end up missing the mark anyway.

Imagine the story of Solomon as if your name replaced his. Imagine the idols Solomon fell prey to reflected more contemporary idols. For me it would read something like this:

“As Brian grew old, his earthly desires turned his heart towards money, status, selfishness and comfort. His heart was less and less devoted to the Lord and he missed out on all God had for him. He hoarded his money and spent it on selfish pursuits leaving his family wanting for his attention. His children suffered as their father neglected them, and his marriage was never what it could have been. He missed countless opportunities to have an eternal impact. At the end of his life, the Lord showed him how he had missed the mark and Brian died knowing that he could have lived so much better.”

Wow. Even writing that breaks my heart. I do not want that to be my story. Nobody does.

The good news is, there is hope.

Remember

“For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him”

The Lord is looking throughout the ENTIRE earth to STRENGTHEN those whose hearts are FULLY His.

This year, and beyond, He is going to find me.

Journal Entry: October 9th 2016

October 9th, 2016

In some ways, I have allowed politics to become an idol. Maybe THE idol in my life right now. I follow it incessantly, yet hardly pray for my country, or open my Bible. I KNOW the truth, and the truth is that my country is not what I want it to be. Our values are not what I want them to be.

But doesn’t that miss the point? Is God not sovereign?
The answer of course is yes, but my idolatry and obsession over this election means that I am living more like it is a “no”.
Humbling indeed.

Both of our primary candidates are so deeply and fundamentally flawed. I recognize we are all deeply and fundamentally flawed, but can you recall a time where both candidates are such a far cry from anything resembling submission to the authority of God? This troubles me, but probably not for the right reasons as I think about it.

It troubles me because it means that the America that I have in my mind, that I believed would be present in my future, is fading rapidly. This America had strong Judeo-Christian values, was proud of what it meant to be an American and all that came with that.

This identity is dying and it breaks my heart. But it also means that (selfishly) my life will be harder. Prosperity will be threatened, my values will be of the minority and maybe even censored before too long.

So what are the right reasons for being troubled by this? Obviously the moral decline of our leadership is indicative of the moral decline of our nation. Wayward morality always has consequences. History has proved this time and time again. Heck, you don’t even need the Bible to see it but I believe Scripture provides the most coherent explanation.

Say what you want about the Founding Fathers, because many say they weren’t Christians. I don’t argue that here, I will say that they did view the world with a moral framework. There was a starting point, a foundation of morality that they looked to for inspiration and guidance.

We are losing this framework. We have no foundation or starting point to look to. And like a house without a strong frame or a body without bones, we fall in on ourselves.

There will be suffering and more suffering. Physical, psychological, social, economic. This is probably the saddest part of this, but also the greatest opportunity because suffering forces us to ask some pretty big questions.

What is the purpose of this?
Why do I suffer?
Is there any hope?

It is here that I return, because the answers to these questions, and the example of our lives is where the Church is indeed Salt and Light.

Salt prevents decay. Light shines brightest in the darkness.

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16