Monday, January 18, 2010

Hard Days

As most of us know, the island nation of Haiti was devastated by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on January 12, 2010. Millions of people from all over the world have been affected by this. The people of Haiti live in extreme poverty, and so such a cataclysmic event damages these people even more. We pray for the people of Haiti, for rescue workers, and for the family members and friends of those who have died.

Four of my seminary mates were in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. Sadly, one of them was killed. His wife and cousin were able to escape from the building they were all in, but B was not. The other person in the country was not with the other three, and even, was in a different town altogether. She was bumped and bruised, but otherwise is physically safe. I give many thanks to God for bringing her back to the U.S. after many failed options, aftershocks, and experiencing to an extent the horrors of a natural disaster. We pray for S as she continues her journey home, and we pray for B's wife, cousin, family, and friends all over the world. The grief that has erupted is great and his loss is profoundly felt.

Today, the big church where I intern had a 9th grade confirmation retreat. The kids learned, played, and spent time together as a community of believers. They weren't all thrilled at having to give up their MLK Jr. Day off, but we appreciated that they came. In the midst of the day, the kids played a game called something like, "Taffy Pulling." It's a game where the kids link together by entwining their arms, hands, fingers, and legs. They hold on for dear life while other people go around trying to separate them all from each other. The last two people connected are the winners. I had never even heard of this game before today, so I stood back and watched.

In the middle of the game, as I listened to the kids' laughter and realized I was laughing myself, I heard one of the girls, who was deeply entangled with another girl, say, "I have no shame. I've won this game before and I will do it again!" I continued laughing and then I felt grief smack me in the face. The girl's comment made me think about how deeply we entwine our lives with those around us and how we hold on for dear life. Our lives are enriched in many ways by the social interactions we have with those in our lives. When someone we love dies, it is painful as that person is wrenched away from us. We wish to hold on, for the hands that pry to go away.

But the thing is, grief is not a shameful thing. We should have no shame in our grief because tears and longing are measures of the gifts of God in our lives. God gifts us with community and with the ability to love. When our earthly sojourn, however long, is over, God embraces the one we love, not as the one who has pried away, but as one who opens arms to show love. God embraces us through our tears and angst. God embraces. Through the embrace of a gracious and loving God, we grieve as ones who have hope. We hope in the promises made in baptism; in the promise that Christ remains with us not to the end of OUR age, but to the end of THE age; and in the hope that Christ redeems us in all that we are.

Today, I give thanks for the lives that entwine with mine, and for the gifts of God for you and for me.

Friday, January 01, 2010

A book and a realization

Currently, I am reading a book entitled, Here if You Need Me. I'm not very far into the book, but up until now, the author has been talking about her life as a Game Warden chaplain, and her life prior to that as a wife and mother. See, the book is a true story, and right now, I'm at the point in the book where she has tended to the body of her recently deceased husband. He was a police officer and was killed in a car accident. She and some friends and family tended to his body in the funeral home, and they also were present at his cremation. The bit in the book that struck me, however, was the one where, on their drive home from the funeral home, the author (named Kate) turns to her mother and says, "Make sure that when I die, you remember to have me cremated at Parklawn. Put me in the same oven they put Drew in. If you're facing the ovens, it's the one on the left." And Kate's mom says, "I'll remember."

I found it a slight bit odd that Kate was giving her mother these instructions, and I found it odd that Kate's mom said, "I'll remember." That is NOT the way things are supposed to go. Parents are "supposed" to die before their children. But, Kate's mom didn't say something like, "Oh honey, I'll be dead long before I have to remember something like that." She simply said, "I'll remember." I suppose in the midst of her own grief, she recognized the horrible pain her daughter was experiencing.

I can't help but think of my own life in the midst of this. My mother has pretty much always been one who tries not to add to the pain of others in any way. When my dad died, I don't even remember her really crying when we were in that hospital room seeing him. She said, "Oh, Jay," and that's about all I remember. I don't remember her crying at the visitation or the funeral or, for that matter, any time really after that. I suppose she, being a stoic German, was afraid that if she started crying, it would make us kids feel worse and then she'd have to deal with not only her own grief, but her kids' grief, too. But it wasn't that she didn't care that such a horrible thing had happened, or that she didn't remember. Certainly she did, as she would say at our graduations, "Your dad would have been so proud." She remembered him in her own way, and didn't often bring him up in conversation.

And I'm realizing in myself, as I remember this line in the book, that a part of why I'm so sad about my mom's cognitive state, is that she's not "here" to remember that she loves ME. She's not "here" to remember that she loves my brothers and sisters, or that she loves to sing, or that she loves doing her yardwork and working up an appetite in the yard. She's not able to remember all those times we would come to her with some sort of boo-boo and she'd kiss it and make it all better, all the while trying to suppress a laugh because, really, how much does that teeny weeny little bump hurt? I want her to remember for herself, but I also want to be remembered by someone who has known me all my life, and who loves me anyway. Sure, I have that in my siblings, but sibling relationships are different. The wonderful relationship I have with my sisters, and the good relationship I have with my brothers (for the most part), is a lot different from the relationship a person has with the one, who along with God, made them.

Anyway, I suppose this post doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but that one discourse in the book just got the old noggin' a going. There is often a saying for people who do Clinical Pastoral Education, and that saying is, "Name it and claim it." CPE is a time when students not only learn about visiting with people in clinical settings, but they also learn about themselves in the midst of group and supervisory settings. We are taught that it is helpful to us, AND to the people we serve, if we are able to understand WHY we feel the way we do in various settings. So, when we are uncomfortable, it is potentially helpful to figure out the emotion we are experiencing and then claim it, not as bad or good, but as something that is, and go from there. So, I'm attempting to name and claim the emotions this book is bringing into my experience, so that I can learn and grow and attain a bit more peace about the state of affairs in portions of my life. Name and Claim. Here we go.