Friday, December 26, 2008
There was some imagery I stumbled upon in the aforementioned post that I've kind of taken a liking to. It was conjured up in my mind with more than a touch of irony and humor, but the more I thought about it, the more it rings true and profoundly applies to the topic at hand, at least in my twisted mind. The image is that of two people "sharing a glass" of wine at dinner. I originally mentioned it as an image of avoiding the betrayal of trust... (The quote follows, here-- and I apologize for having the audacity to quote my own blog, but it sets up the rest of this post...)
If I'm on a date, and my date offers me a taste of her wine (certainly a bold and intimate gesture), what would she do if I'd take the sip, and then get up from the table and go around the restaurant with her cup, offering sips of her wine to all the other patrons? Just because a friend shares with you a sip from his or her cup, it doesn't mean that it is in fact your cup to share with others.
I think we all get where I was going, there. But the thing that I keep coming back to, in reflection of this topic, is indeed that "glass of wine". Or the concept of "this cup", as a metaphor for various paths of struggle, grief, or intense suffering. There is something strikingly intimate and descriptive about the idea of sharing that glass of wine with someone-- the sweetness, the bitterness, the unique character and aroma, the personal exchange and sharing therein... Indeed, (not to equate any of our suffering with that of Jesus-- as if I need to clarify!), Jesus pled with The Father, on the eve of his crucifixion, that He "take this cup". And prior, He had challenged His disciples (who were quarrelling, ironically about which one was the greatest among them) and asked them, "Can you drink the cup I drink...?" That is... "can you really come along with me and taste of the suffering I'm about to endure? Can you bear this cross?"
This again brings me to a powerfully spiritual truth of the more eternal variety that keeps sprouting up into my life, through these past several months. THIS is the stuff that faith is made of. To drink from Christ's cup. To bear Christ's cross. The whole plan of the "salvation of man to God" centers around suffering, and then redemption. (So often we tend to want to fast-forward through the suffering part and just dwell on the redemption part.) That God should sacrifice Himself in His perfection-- humbling Himself from the highest place to the lowest (Merry Christmas, by the way)-- and pay the price for our sin/fallenness/unGodliness, by enduring-- and then succumbing to, and then overcoming-- some of the most disgusting and treacherous kind of suffering (and even death) anyone could possibly imagine. Remember-- in order to be able to "conquer the grave", He first had to be "sent to the grave"-- and that, not without intensely horrible suffering. So tell me, my Christian brothers and sisters... "Are you willing to drink this cup and bear this cross?" Is the Gospel you preach and hold to and live by a Gospel of happiness and comfort and the path of least resistance? Or is it the Gospel of the Cross? Of faith enduring-- even blossoming and coming to fruition-- in suffering?
This is extremely important to refresh in our minds as we dive further into the topic of "coming alongside a friend or loved one in their suffering", because this, my friends, is the very essence of the Gospel, as best I can tell... Living faith in suffering... "sharing the cup"... This is what I mean when I talk about "abiding" with someone-- or not trying to just "fix it". Until you have actually shared that cup-- tasted the bittersweetness of that wine-- you truly have no idea what you're even trying to fix. And just because you've tasted a different cup doesn't mean you know the fullness of what the cup of another contains.
Now, all you who are suffering, or have suffered-- a minute with you, if I may... Many of you have resonated with my "do-and-don't" lists from the previous post. But it needs to be understood that these guidelines for your family and friends are only going to yield positive "results", (or rather, "processes"), if we, in our suffering, are willing to truly drink our cup ourselves... and then share it. First of all, do you allow your suffering, grief, "healing", or whatever to point you to the Cross? Or is all your energy and focus pointed inward, at how badly this all sucks? Certainly it can be a good thing to call out to God in agony and dissatisfaction with your cup... but it is only good if, indeed, you are calling out to Him. Do you view your suffering as an honor and a privelege, as Paul did-- that you might be able to live the fullness of your faith through intense suffering as Jesus did? Do you who mourn understand why you're called "blessed"? Do you who are poor in spirit understand? What about you who are persecuted? Not that it makes you happy-- there's a different between "blessed" and "happy" (a fact that the American church doesn't always seem to grasp). But before any sort of "healthy grieving" or "faithful suffering" or "cross bearing" or "sharing of the cup" can take place... the person who has been given the cup needs to have both of his/her eyes fixed on that Cross. Otherwise, you are a slave to yourself-- to your own feelings and thoughts and humanness. And once you're there, you'd might as well just go buy a bunch of new-agey, secularly-humanistic self-help books. Because all of the abiding in the world isn't going to help you. Sitting on your duff and feeling sorry for yourself is not abiding. No, accepting your cup, drinking from it, and sharing it in faith with others, with eyes fixed on the Cross... now THAT's the abiding I'm talking about. It's the abiding the Lord was talking about when He said, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me."
There's that fruit of the vine again... which brings us right back to the wine and the cup...
So this post is a bit all over the map, and perhaps more abstract. But this should have actually been the precursor to the "To Mourn With Those Who Mourn" post. This is the imagery that is on my mind when I think of suffering, and coming alongside those who are suffering. This is the concept that is flooding my mind as I write a more concrete, direct list of "Dos" and "Don'ts". It's not about comforting a friend in need. It's about sharing a cup.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Certainly, there are important differences to be drawn between people who are suffering (ie, a terminal illness), and those who are mourning or grieving. And of course, different cases of "grieving" can look quite different-- a person who is recently widowed has quite a different set of circumstances from one who, say, has been recently divorced. (Even 2 recently widowed people's grief processes can look unimaginably different from the other's, regardless of how similar their situations seem "on paper".) So, I can't pretend to speak on behalf of all people grieving or suffering everywhere. (In fact, I was just sharing with a friend last night how there are so many "self-help" books on bookshelves that seem to try to boil down my situation-- grieving, single parenthood, etc...-- into a 5-step process, or a matter of right-and-wrong, or a check-list... and frankly, it just doesn't apply to me. Either I'm a freak, or the author is full of crap. Or maybe a bit of both.) However, there are similarities, too, we must admit, between individual journeys through grief, pain, suffering, mourning... "HEALING", we'll call it. (Indeed, sometimes a wound is so fresh and painful that we can't possibly fathom that we are actually already "healing". But many medical experts will acknowledge that the healing process indeed begins with the sensation of pain. Pain is not the absence of healing... it's the advent of it. Without pain, true healing cannot proceed.) Even those who are "dying" (as Leslie was), are still truly in the midst of their own journey of healing. So what do we do when we find ourselves in relationship with a "healing" person? (No matter how casual or intimate that relationship is... it is still a relationship.) How do we help? What do we say? What do we NOT say? How do we LOVE them?
An important part of the dynamic in a relationship between one who is suffering and one who is trying to come alongside the suffering person, is simply that the one who is suffering needs to be open to it. This is bad news, for all of you out there who have loved ones who are just simply unwilling to let you in. (But be careful, though, in your assessment of who is actually unwilling to "let you in". I know VERY FEW people who are truly unwilling to be loved. In fact, most who are truly this way are diagnosable with some sort of clinical disorder. Don't mistake "hard to love" with "unloveable"... don't mistake "reluctant to share" with "unwilling to share".) No matter how those of us who are "healing" want to hoard our sorrow or pain all for ourselves, we need to come to the realization that a) though our case may be somewhat unique, we still are indeed "suffering" like so many others, in different circumstances from our own; and b) it is good for our own souls and the souls of others to indeed let others "in" to our experiences. This is the divine plan of community. Humanity. The Church. The "social Gospel" (as it's been called) of Jesus. That being said... I just want to preface what I'm about to share with the firm assertion that there is no rule of thumb. No 5-step process to coming alongside a fallen or broken brother. No blueprint for loving those in greatest need.
With that being said, here's the best I can come up with, for now, from my own experience, and sharing in the experiences of others who are at various levels of their own "healing journeys". It's rough... it's not balanced... it may not seem "fair" for you outsiders-looking-in, as far as journeys of suffering are concerned. But it's real. I'll lay it out kind of as a quick reference tool... a list of "dos and don'ts". And I encourage dialogue on this! I'm still learning myself! These lists may need editing, amending, abridging, etc... in future blog posts. Please, leave your affirmations and dissentions alike-- your encouragement and discouragement from what you read-- in the "comments" section of this post, for all to see... this is such a healthy exercise for us all to embark on together... truly God-honoring... So, with a prayer to God and plea to you all for grace, I humbly give you my "Dos and Don'ts"... How to come alongside one who is suffering... or mourning... or healing... or whatever:
- DON'T TRY TO FIX IT. Suffering is not something to be rescued from. It is something to be endured. It is God who heals. Not you. If your motive is to rescue someone, go to the Humane Society shelter and adopt a pet. If your motive is to love somebody, just be willing to abide with a person in their suffering, without trying to fix it.
- DON'T GIVE UNINVITED ADVICE. If they want advice, they'll ask. If you're giving advice, you're just trying to "fix it". As a matter of fact, it just may be that your "healing" friend has more to teach you than they have to learn from you.
- DON'T BE CLICHE. Yes, God has a plan. Yes, this too shall pass. Yes, Leslie is better off now. Yes, God is in control and He hears our prayers. But frankly, these are not truths to be uttered in passing, when one when one is grasping for words and can think of nothing else to say. If you've read it in a Hallmark card, just don't say it... no matter how true. (Indeed, if it's on a Hallmark card, just send them the card.) To the person who is suffering, hearing such things just gives the impression that the person doing the "encouraging" has no idea just how badly this sucks... that the person doing the speaking is really just trying to make him/herself feel better, and not really interested in sharing in the pain. Again, I am not dishonoring the truth of such well-known spiritual foundations. On the contrary... I'm just saying that some truths are actually dishonored or cheapened when they're offered as a band-aid, as a greeting of sorts, or as a passing blurb.
- DON'T ASSUME YOU CAN "RELATE". It's one thing to try to understand and come alongside someone in their suffering. It's completely another to use someone's predicament as an opportunity to share your own sob story. The fact that your 90-year-old grandmother died following a stroke last year may be an unfortunate fact. But what you learned through the course of that experience is not likely to be applicable to your friend who just lost their 9-year-old daughter to leukemia. In fact, something that helped you when your own daughter died of leukemia might not even be helpful to that friend, either. NEVER say, "I understand just what you're going through, because..." Even if you think you can relate. It is much more fruitful to just say, "I can in no way fathom just what you're going through. I am sorry."
- DON'T AVOID THE OBVIOUS. Don't pretend that nothing's wrong. Certainly, there is something to be said for just letting a friend escape their misery and have a conversation about something else. But you need to always be aware... be prepared to "go there"... be prepared to cry, to listen, to love.
- DON'T AVOID THE PERSON. This might sound silly to have to say. But I know a family who, after the tragic death of a loved one, was literally abandoned by their church. I know of a man whose friends stopped calling, stopped asking to hang out, stopped loving them after being diagnosed with a terminal disease. "Not knowing what to say" is NOT an excuse for abandoning your friend or loved one. In fact, it is all the more reason to PURSUE them.
- DON'T BETRAY TRUST. Don't gossip. If you are fortunate enough to have been allowed "inside"-- into the more intimate spaces of a suffering friend's heart and mind-- honor that by keeping it between the two of you. If you want, you may ask if you can have specific people (your family, your friends, your small group) pray for the matter. But don't assume that just because they shared it with you, that they want all of your friends knowing about it-- or even praying about it. If I'm on a date, and my date offers me a taste of her wine (certainly a bold and intimate gesture), what would she do if I'd take the sip, and then get up from the table and go around the restaurant with her cup, offering sips of her wine to all the other patrons? Just because a friend shares with you a sip from his or her cup, it doesn't mean that it is in fact your cup to share with others.
- BE PATIENT. There is no universal timeline. Don't dare to come alongside a person unless you are willing to persevere in patience... even if the person is never "healed" by your definition.
- BE KIND. Gentle. A healing heart is fragile. Be kind even when the one you're being kind to is not. If you're not willing to take a punch and answer with a hug or at least a kind word, don't get into the ring.
- REMEMBER: IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU. If your suffering loved one snaps, pushes you away, does not accept your gestures, lashes out, crawls into a hole and avoids the light of day... Let it roll off your back-- do not let it affect how you are able to love them. It's just not about you. Likewise, if you're fortunate enough to find a word that actually brings encouragement, don't take credit. Give the glory to God, and just be happy for the one who is suffering, that they're actually encouraged. (As a side-note, this one was extremely difficult for me, as I learned to come alongside Leslie in her life-long struggle with depression... I know many out there can relate.)
- HUG OFTEN. I don't care if it's weird. I don't care if they don't seem like the "touchy-feely" type-- or if you're not the "touchy-feely" type. There are actually clinical studies out there about the positive correllations between "healing" and "physical personal contact". If your loved one side-steps your efforts, try again later. To avoid hugging is to make a person feel as though he's been quarantined. My grief is not contageous by contact. Your love is though. Let me have it!
- LISTEN. Just listen. Even if it's hard. Shut up and listen. Or to be more proper/biblical about it: "...be quick to listen, slow to speak..."
- PRAY!! Offer to pray with the suffering person. Pray FOR the suffering person, every time the person enters your mind. Sure, pray for "healing", but don't just stop there. Pray for peace. Pray for revelation. Pray for strength to endure. (Both for your loved one, and for yourself, as you come alongside.) Ask what it is they need prayer for. If you find that you've gone a single day without praying for a person... well then... I guess you're not really "coming alongside", are you? Of all the gestures people have done for us through our "journey"-- all the gifts, all the acts of service, words of encouragement...-- it is the prayer of our friends, families, and even strangers for which we are most grateful.
- SHARE YOUR PRAYERS. Be specific. Send a note, or tell them when you see them... For example: "Yesterday, I was thinking of you-- you were just heavy on my heart. And I prayed specifically for peace, and that you could just sleep through the night."
- ALLOW FOR SPACE. Not to contradict "DO #4"... but sometimes, a person just needs some space. We just need to be alone sometimes. If you're wondering whether a person needs space or not... simply ask... "Do you just need some space right now?" This is a welcome question, speaking from experience, more so than "how can I help?". (Refer also to "DOs" #1 and #3, if you find yourself trying to love a suffering person who just needs space.)
- GIVE RANDOM, THOUGHTFUL GESTURES. The best things we've received from people are the random, heart-felt notes... just to tell us they're thinking of us and praying for us. Or maybe, a box of cookies in the mailbox with a hand-written card. Or maybe a gift-card for Caribou with a note, "Coffee on me! I'd love to join you. Anytime. But no offense if you just want to enjoy this alone." Oh... and when you give random thoughtful gestures... attach no strings. Don't even expect a thank-you. Certainly don't expect a special seat at the greiving table. The fact that your friend received the gesture should be gratitude enough. (But don't, by the way, ask them whether they actually received it... this comes off as begging for a slap on the back. If it's that big of deal, send it certified mail or in some way that requires a signature.)
- BE PERSONAL IN YOUR COMMUNICATION. Tell the person specifically what they mean to you... tell them specifically how their struggle is affecting your own life-- what you're learning, how you're losing sleep, how you've been encouraged, how you've struggled... even how you're angry at God or questioning His goodness. This most certainly does NOT contradict #3 above. In fact, I can speak on behalf of Leslie, that she just cherished the realization that her own journey was encouraging, challenging, revealing, etc... to others. That God was using her to reach and minister to other people. (This continues to be the greatest source of encouragement in my own ongoing journey.) (NOTE: See #4 in the "DON'Ts"... Do not mistake this "DO" to mean that you should be personal in relating your own story to a person who is suffering, in an attempt to show that you somehow "understand what they're going through".)
- SAY SOMETHING. BUT SAY LITTLE. It's not okay to never talk about it or pretend someone isn't suffering. Granted, someone may not want to talk about their suffering at a given minute. But it is always a good call to just simply say privately, "I'm sorry you're going through what you are." Or, "I've been praying for you like crazy. Just wanted to let you know that." Or, "You've been on my mind a lot. I'd love to talk sometime." Or whatever. And be prepared to move on in the conversation on to a non-related topic. But also, be prepared to just linger there for awhile.
- SPEAK AND ACT IN LOVE. Every word. Every deed. Every prayer. Cover it all in love... measure every motive with I. Cor. 13, and ask, "am I acting in LOVE here?": 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails.
- LISTEN TO THE SPIRIT. The Holy Spirit, that is... If you're not a Christ-follower, I guess you can go ahead and disregard this one. But for those of you who call yourselves "Christians", this is one of the precise reasons why Jesus left us His Holy Spirit... to know how to love each other more fully into the grace, peace, joy, and truth of God. How do you know what's from the Holy Spirit, and what's just that burrito you had for lunch? Ask yourself, "Is this thought, word, gesture, etc... a 'fruit of the Spirit'?" "...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Gal. 5)
I could truly spend more time on this, and indeed, I hope to, via your comments, and perhaps subsequent posts. In the meantime... I guess I'll just wrap it up by saying, "Love each other well. Abide with one another in love. Don't fix. Don't rescue. Just abide."
Saturday, December 13, 2008
**THUD** (That's the other shoe dropping.) (It's a big thud. I wear size 14's.)
Okay, so maybe that's a little over-dramatic. But in all seriousness, the last two days were definitely the hardest 48 hours I've endured this holiday season.
The summary is that TJ and I are now back at home at 432 Butterfly, having cut short our stay in Ohio for the Aschliman Family Christmas. The entire weekend was basically one giant "melt-down" exibit. Sure, there were times when TJ was okay... but the literal majority of the time was spent "managing" him... Either reprimanding him for making one of his cousins cry, or trying to console him in his own teary fit, or just cuddling him in his sweet little neediness. He was over-tired, over-stimulated, poorly-nourished... and... well... in my opinion... he just needed his Mommy.
After a 2+ hour struggle to get him to settle down and "get control" this afternoon at around nap-time (which I lost, by the way... my first ever such defeat... EVER...), I made the call to forego snowman building time this afternoon and dinner this evening and church with the family tomorrow, and we just called it a year and headed home. Christmas dinner at my parents is seriously an annual event of epic proportions. Perhaps my favorite meal of the entire year... and I'm a "foodie"... a culinary enthusiast. We're talking king crab legs, marinated petit filet mignon (my dad does better steaks than Ruth's Chris), some sort of greens salad with cranberries and walnuts or something, maybe au gratin or baby red-skin potatoes usually, some great wine, and my mom's specialty-- home-made tiramisu to finish it off. It seriously broke my heart to leave before dinner tonight. It's the family event of the year.
And poor TJ missed the snowman-fest this afternoon. Each of the boys (he has 3 boy-cousins on my side) got a snow-man kit for Christmas-- a plastic carrot-nose, a scarf and stocking cap, and button-char-coalie looking things for the eyes and smiles. They were going to put them to use this afternoon, as my parents had 3 inches of fresh pack-able snow on the ground.
Yes... He was that bad. Bad enough to miss all of this. If the dozen-or-so spankings didn't hurt his little rear end enough (remember, I view spanking as a "last resort"), certainly the damage he did to himself throwing his temper tantrums (he bruised his wrist at nap-time today, banging on the door, the floor, and his daddy) will be a stout reminder to him in the morning of his struggles. I was seriously brought to tears of frustration and helplessness several times. My poor family could only stand by and listen from afar as I tried to console, scold, reprimand, punish, or otherwise extend grace to a horribly behaved 3-year-old. Again... he was over-stimulated, over-tired, and oh... by the way... I was trying to get him to lie down in the 4th different bed this week.
How can I NOT begin to really doubt myself? How can I not sense that this is somehow unraveling? How can I not come to the sudden understanding of my own limitations as a father and as a person and realize there's just no way I can "do this". How can I not at least start to wonder if I'm ruining the life of this little child? The weekly travel my job requires... The commitments I try to keep up with... But seriously, do I say "no" to a family Christmas? Do I quit my job or simply tell a customer "no, I can't make it this week, ask my competitor to take my place"? Do I tell my church, "sorry... can't serve... find someone else"? Do I run the risk of literally driving myself insane and cut out my work-out or "quiet" times? (If you suggest a simple "yes" to any of these rhetorical questions, please don't you dare say so out loud... You can't possibly understand the depth of the conviction of my priorities... not that any of these compares to the priority I put on my son... But herein lies the crux of the rhetoric.)
You see, my friends... Family life was simply meant to be managed in partnership between a husband and wife, at least as my my own personal experience has revealed it. I could use this as an opportunity to get on my marriage/divorce soap-box, but I've already been there and done that. (See "Choices"-- posted September 11, 2008 on this same blog.) I learned early on that I cannot be a mommy to TJ. I can only be me-- his Daddy. I cannot be Leslie. Though, as I've mentioned before, she has indeed left parts of her with me-- some of her discernment, her personality, her quiet strength... all these things and more will always be a part of me (which is why she will always be "my better half"). But even in my best moment as a man and a father... even in my best moment when I'm wielding the weapons she left me with before leaving this life... I am still only a fraction of the parenting machine we were together.
I confess, as I drove back toward Chicago this afternoon, (after all his obstinance at bed-time and nap-time at Mimi and Papa's house, TJ fell asleep in his car seat-- not 10 minutes into the 3.5 hour drive back home), I was frustrated. Defeated. Full of doubt. I would have been angry, had I been able to muster up the strength. But I was just spent. I asked God, similarly as I have before... "Certainly, Lord... This cannot be more pleasing to You than the way it was before... When we were a 'whole family'??!!! Certainly, this is not Your better judgment... to have her be with You, and not here!? Certainly, TJ needs his Mommy... I need my wife and my partner... more than you need her there...??!! HOW IS THIS BETTER!!!?? HOW IS THIS YOUR WILL??!!"
A very dear friend of mine turned me on to a Christian singer-songwriter named JJ Heller. JJ sings a song-- presumedly to her son or daughter, or at least through the voice of a parent to his/her child-- called "keep you safe". My friend says this song has always brought me and TJ to mind. It goes like this:
Quiet your heart. It's just a dream. Go back to sleep.
I'll be right here. I'll stay awake as long as you need me
To slay all the dragons and keep out the monsters. I'm watching over you.
My love is a light driving away all of your fear.
So don't be afraid. Remember I made a promise to keep you safe.
You'll have your own battles to fight when you are older.
You'll find yourself frozen inside. But always remember...
If you feel alone, facing the giants, and you don't know what to do...
My love is a light driving away all of your fear.
So don't be afraid. Remember I made a promise to keep you safe.
This song is beautifully sung and written. I used to envision myself singing it to TJ... or maybe God singing it to me. It has just been lately-- in the midst of bouts with the "Terrible Threes", similar to what we experienced this weekend-- that I've learned to listen to this song with a new outlook... Namely... That God is singing this song to TJ.
You see... This weekend is only a reminder. A gut-check. Am I really trusting that God has me planted firmly in the palm of His hand? And, if in my wreckless abandon, it becomes too easy to just take that leap of faith-- (After all... what, at this point, do I have to lose?? My life? What life do I truly have left to live, compared to that which I've lost?)-- what about when it comes to TJ? Do I trust that God has TJ's best interest in mind? Do I trust that He will provide for TJ? Even in the face of the full understanding of my own inadequacy as a single parent? If God is God-- Lord of my life-- then He is Lord of TJ. If He is providing to meet my needs day-by-day, then certainly, He will provide even more fully for TJ. "Let the little children come unto me..."
Again... I hear the words... whispers evolving into booms like thunder... "In your weakness, I AM MADE STRONG!!!"
God, bless my child. I am incapable of loving him and caring for him and guiding him and nurturing him the way Leslie would, if she was here. But You took her from us. Certainly, You will provide in her absence...? But how!? In faith, Abraham laid Isaac on the altar. In faith, I give TJ to you. Teach me, Father. And where I fall short... show Yourself strong.
Friday, December 12, 2008
The most powerful "teaching moments" which God is using to speak into my own life are those where I'm relating personally with others in situations similar to my own-- those who are experiencing grief, suffering, and so-on-- be it the loss of a loved one, terminal illness, or what-have-you. A very interesting and complex example of this type of relationship is the one I have with Leslie's family... MY family, I guess... We all loved the same Leslie, witnessed the same tragedy together, yet each of our own "journeys" have been so different, these past 5 months. What follows is an email conversation that took place between my mother-in-law, ("Gram", as TJ calls her; "Mom", as I call her), and myself this past week, shortly after I posted my previous entry.
From: Vicki Bucher email@example.com
To: Tyson Aschliman firstname.lastname@example.org
Sent: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 4:47:42 PM
Hi Ty... your posts have become part of the healing process for me. I can't read them without crying, which is ok, because they really make me think and help me work through my pain and broken heart. I am very thankful and happy that Indy was so good for you. I know if must have been very healing for your friends there also. So THANKS for being you and for being my son-in-law! My prayers keep changing, depending on my needs I guess, but for the past week I have asked for a spirit of gratitude, for His mercy and grace and for healing for my broken heart. Now I've added help me to "surrender" to His will. I ask for forgiveness for my doubts and fears and anger. I'm trying to focus on the living, and all of the good things in my life. So, anyway, little by little, I think I am going to make it. Did WI get the snow they were predicting? Take care and get back safely. I love you.
From: Tyson Aschliman email@example.com
Date: Thursday, December 11, 2008, 9:29 AM
Being able to pray for healing of your own broken heart is an important step, I've learned, Mom. Not sure if I told you the story or not... As you know, those first two months were some sloppy, snotty, messy, teary months for me. I was a wreck. That's basically how I envisioned "grieving" being. Certainly, there were positives, and I learned a lot, and God was right there with me, as He was with Job and Solomon and David and Jesus as they wept and mourned and "suffered". But interpersonally, I wasn't really much good to anyone. I was basically paralyzed, emotionally and spiritually. And I know that's okay. Some people are still "there", years after losing a loved one... and God can be honored in that, too. But one morning, a week or two after the last memorial service, I just cried out and said "UNCLE"! Here's a summary of a prayer I prayed that morning, on me knees, weeping in the shower, trying to get up the energy to get myself ready for work:
"God, I miss her. I thank You for her. I will stay here forever and weep and mourn and grieve her loss-- I loved her THIS MUCH. But God, You took her from me. She is no longer here. No longer my wife. She is now Your beautiful bride. And I am left here to live without her. God, I don't desire to live without her. But I desire to desire to live again. God, either hold me here to suffer forever until You take me home as well, or pick me up and heal me and teach me to live again. But Lord, do not wait. Waste no time. If You are going to move, then get on with it and heal me. Because I'm no good to anyone like this. I'm certainly not any good to Leslie like this. Be glorified in my grief or be glorified in healing me. But if you're going to move, get on with it. My life is yours."
You see, Mom, I was somehow deeply attached to my grief. Like it somehow made me feel closer to Leslie. It was a proverbial shaking of my fist at the cruelty of the world, to suffer like that. "I'll show YOU how bad this life SUCKS!!! Look at me now! Feel this PAIN!" That is certainly all part of the "healing process"-- a necessary and yes, even God-glorifying one. But again, I reached the point where I said that prayer (above) that morning in the shower. I didn't necessarily want to be "freed" of that grief... but I wanted to WANT to live again. (Because frankly, in that deep and dark place of grief, I can't say I truly desired to live again.)
Anyway... Like I said... it wasn't immediate. But I believe that moment was the beginning of what I can only describe as the miraculous healing that I've come to acknowledge today... this "filling back up" of my heart by God, according to His unpredictable will and wonderful grace. Two weeks later, I was getting ready for work again, and it dawned on me, as I sat on my bed, buttoning up my shirt, looking at all our photos on the dresser... I wasn't crying. In fact... I hadn't cried in days. (Previously, I had been crying dozens of times a day.) Actually, I was smiling... smiling at how pretty she was... at how happy we were. But it was this crazy awakening to the fact that the sadness was indeed being replaced with nostalgia. "Missing her" was being replaced with beautiful memories. It used to be, at night, when I missed her most, that I would close my eyes tightly, squeezing out tears, and try to imagine her beside me... holding my big body pillow, pretending it was her, almost willing her back to life... back to my side. But I began to realize, as I caught myself smiling at her pictures that morning, rather than crying, that something was changing in my heart... and it wasn't from me. I began to realize that in fact, God heard that prayer... and even more amazing... he was answering it... with a "yes", even! (I'd forgotten that He does that, from time to time... gives us the desires of our hearts...)
I called Anna (Leslie's and my friend, who I spoke of in the "Indy" post) that morning to share the revelation with her, told her about the prayer on that morning 2 weeks prior, and it brought tears to her eyes. That previous week, she had had a dream where Leslie visited her from Heaven, and the two friends hung out and watched Will and TJ play together, just like they'd always dreamed. Leslie was beautiful, Anna tells me-- more beautiful than ever. Glowing-- almost like Jesus, post-transfiguration. And she was happy. She just kept saying, "Anna, I can't believe how happy I am now. I'm SO HAPPY!" (This, of course, is significant because of how Anna walked with Leslie through her regular bouts with depression.) They talked for awhile about Sarah (Anna's sister who had gone to Heaven years prior) and Heaven and Anna was so encouraged, and then Leslie said, "Anna, I want you to tell Tyson how happy I am... And part of that is seeing that they're doing well. I just want them to be happy, and I see that they will be... and I see that it's starting now. And I just want them to know that that makes me so happy." At that point in the dream, I showed up... knocked on the door. Anna said, "Tyson, guess who's here!" And we both turned around and Leslie was gone. She didn't want to be seen by me, according to Anna's interpretation, because she was afraid it would affect the "healing process" or whatever, that God was doing. Crazy, huh? Anyway, this was just confirmation that there was something eternal and powerful at work, here.
Anyway, I share that with you, because it's right in line with what you're talking about... beginning to pray for God to heal your broken heart. Mom, we'll never get over Leslie. She'll always be my wife-- my better half. She'll always be your daughter-- your flesh and blood. But part of life-long grieving is learning to live your life again... letting your loss teach you to love better. And we can be confident that Leslie is, indeed, "in better hands now". I keep saying it, because it rings truer every time I confess it... Leslie wouldn't give up a single breath now, in exchange for another whole 7 years back here with me, even as great as those 7 years were. She's just in a better place now.
I've seen so many examples of what can happen when we get caught in this "twilight zone" of mourning/ suffering-- when a family can't learn to live without a loved one. Where surviving family members are still in a place with their grief and loss where it is basically preventing them from loving the others that remain in their lives. People can cling to their grief to the point that depression and other issues can slip into their lives, "paralyzing" them, preventing them from acting on their love the way they should. Or perhaps people bottle it up, hiding it from the world, lest they be viewed as weak-- lest others be compelled to come "rescue" them, which would make matters only worse. Certainly, it is not a waste of effort to grieve a loved one. It is not a waste of tears to cry and weep. But there is a point where we need to let it make us into better people. God will do that, if we abide in Him. He will make you a better mom (as if that's something any of us could actually fathom). :) He'll make me into a better man-- a better husband, even, someday. He'll make us a stronger family. If we can trust Him with Leslie... if we can abide in Him here, in her absence. That's not to be equated with saying we're "getting over it". On the contrary... we are learning to live without her... or rather, we are learning to live with her absence. We are allowing her life and death and the completion of her life again, here and now, to change us... To transform us-- not entirely different from how she has been transformed-- into better versions of ourselves, because we can taste the sweetness of Heaven through her. We can have the blessing of a fuller understanding of the Gospel... of hope and grace and peace and eternal love... BECAUSE of our suffering-- not "in spite" of it. But before we "get there", we need to be willing to let God heal our hearts... We need to be willing to at least want to live again. Even "without" Leslie. And that, I know first-hand, is the hardest thing to do.
Mom, one other thing I'll encourage you to do, as I've learned to do via my study of Job and David and Solomon and Paul and the others... (I'm truly sorry to be "giving advice", but you, I sense, could stand to hear this-- and it's not from me... it's simply what God is teaching me...) Don't just ask for forgiveness for your doubts and fears and anger, as you said in your previous note... POUR THEM OUT to God. Don't hide them from Him. His grace is big enough to cover them. His holiness will not be affected negatively because you dare to tell Him just how pissed off you are at Him. Or how much you doubt that He is actually listening to you... Or the dissonance in your own mind between knowing that He is a loving and compassionate God, but just not feeling it at any given moment. In fact... in that place of honest confession and "wrestling" with Him (you DO know where Israel got his name, right?)... it is in THAT place that His grace abounds all the more. Where the Gospel comes alive. Where God is glorified as He stands up and eventually says... PEACE. BE STILL. MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT. I AM YOUR GOD, AND YOU ARE MY CHILD.
Mom, I'm still wrestling. I always will. But I'm letting Him teach me to live and love better through it. That's all this is. I've given Leslie over to Him, and accepted my "cross", so to speak. I'm not ignoring my cross... I'm bearing it.
Anyway... That's what I have to say about that this morning. I could go on, but it would become redundant, if it hasn't already... Know that I love you, and I want you to know that I will forever love and cherish and honor your daughter, in the eternal/ spiritual sense, (as I can no longer do that in the physical sense-- she is no longer here), even as I bear this cross and "move on"-- and even do so in joy... even "happiness" at times. Seriously... Would Leslie want it any other way for us? I miss her, too Mom. And I smile at the memories every day, giving thanks to God for the life she lived, and the life she gave me.
Talk to you soon.
From: Vicki Bucher firstname.lastname@example.org
To: Tyson Aschliman email@example.com
Sent: Friday, December 12, 2008 10:28:42 AM
I seriously don't know why it took me so long to specifically ask for healing for my broken heart ( I guess my heart hurt too much!) I totally hear you about that deep and dark place of grief and not truly desiring to live again. That was me for sure. Since I've been praying for the spirit of gratitude and for His mercy and grace and HEALING of my broken heart...I can honestly say I am doing much better. Your prayer in the shower asking Him to teach you to live again..I am going to continue to ask that. I just think I've been too weary to even know what to ask Him and that is certainly what I want (at least now)-- I want to live again.
Your post on the pouring out was very helpful to me also. I really don't believe I was pouring out and after reading that I was making more of an effort to do that, not only to Him but being willing to do that to friends ... really sharing how I'm doing etc. I was holding back before that I think. Even to the point of avoiding people (I'm very good at dodging/avoiding people that I thought would bring it up & just reopening the wound). I began to just let the tears come when they wanted to with people, not running away from my emotions.
Anna's dream is just so real..I am so jealous. I have not had any dreams about Leslie. I can't figure that out. Dad, Dana, and Chris have dreams about her whether bad or good, but I can't remember having any dreams about her. I sleep like a rock, which is good I guess. Maybe God thinks I'm not ready for a dream, I don't know. But her dream WOW. The depression thing with Anna and Leslie...I am so very thankful that Leslie is free of that. You were an intregal part of her dealing with that, Ty. THANK YOU. She was doing so well considering everything that was going on. Thanks for loving her so much. You know, I almost always tell people "she's in a better place now or I say she's in better hands now" when they ask how I'm doing. And I hear you, each time I say that I'm REALLY beginning to believe it! Your description of how some families do or don't deal with a loved one's death is certainly something that we don't want our family to become. You are so right-on with your understanding of how we could get to that point. I am using Gerald Sittser's book on grief as a "reference" for lack of a better word. It has been so helpful to me. I can't remember if Gayle gave you a copy of it or not. His approach to his own loss of his wife, mom, and daughter in an accident basicly is what you are saying. We will never get over our loss, but we will "absorb" it and it will become a part of us. We will not be delivered from suffering, but with God's help we can be transformed by it.
As far as my asking for forgiveness for fear, doubt, anger, etc...this pouring out thing is new to me. Imagine that! I guess I didn't see it as I am hiding them from Him as He is all seeing, all knowing, so He knows how I am feeling. So, ok, I will POUR them out to Him. It's beginning to make sense. Nobody is ever too old to learn, right? But I am recognizing that the pouring out concept is making the burden somewhat lighter. Thanks Ty for taking the time to write to me. It was not redundant...I know I will read and reread it. I want to move on also and joy and happiness is gradually returning. I have so many wonderful things to live for including YOU AND TJ. Thank God for His many blessings in my life. I have to say everytime I look at the sky I see Leslie's smiling face/ the picture of her on the large posterboard with the sky backdrop and the 3 Trees verse. I miss her and I'm mad! How's that for pouring out?
Have a great weekend in OH. love you so much
Monday, December 8, 2008
Since moving to the Chicago area, whenever visiting Indy, we had always stayed with Leslie's dear friend Anna and her husband Rob. TJ and I saw no reason to change up our accommodations this trip, and Anna was pleased to have us invite ourselves over for the stay, as we always would have. TJ has always just felt at home there, and now Anna and Rob have a 1-year-old of their own, whom TJ was excited to play with (he LOVES being with other kids). Leslie and Anna used to talk about how they'd get their kids together and play for a weekend here and there, once they both had kids to share with each other. Last weekend, the two friends got to live their dream. TJ and William hit it off wonderfully. TJ was very "gentle" with "Baby Will", and Will got a huge kick out of TJ-- giggling his 2-toothed baby belly laugh at TJ's antics.
Anna's family is no stranger to loss and suffering in their own right. Anna is one of 5 sisters. One sister, Sarah, is now partying in Heaven with Leslie, having gone before her about 3 or 4 years ago, after completing her own war with cancer. Leslie walked with Anna through Sarah's sickness years ago. At Sarah's memorial service, I experienced grief and emotion and tears like I never had before. I was almost embarrassed, because certainly I'd been to other "funerals" before, and here I was, bawling my eyes out, literally brought to my knees in seemingly unbearable pain... and I hardly even knew Sarah. I only knew Anna, and her only through Leslie, really. I was just so overwhelmed and shocked by my own response. I know now that God was weaving this family into a special place in my heart. Years after that day, Anna walked with us through Leslie's battle with cancer. Anna and Leslie had their own language-- were so similar in their spirits, personalities, and hearts that they could seemingly communicate with each other the depths of their own souls without hardly saying a word. To be honest, I used to be jealous of Anna, in this regard... I had to work so hard to understand Leslie... and to be understood by her. Anyway, Anna was such a blessing to Leslie, and Leslie to Anna, throughout the life of their friendship.
As Leslie got sicker, Anna and her family were remarkably encouraging to us-- and to me, especially after Leslie died. I know now that God was cutting into my heart, that day of Sarah's service, making a place for this family, that they could speak into me and encourage me the way they have these past few months (a period which has also been difficult on their family-- not only losing Leslie but dealing with the death of a dear grandpa, amid other trials). TJ and I got to hang out with Anna's whole family this weekend-- sisters, parents, brothers-in-law-- and it was a truly wonderful time.
A friend of mine had tickets to the Colts game on Sunday-- a 35-3 mauling of the Cincinnati Bungles (not a typo)-- so Rob and I were happy to fill a couple of seats there with some other buddies. And on Saturday night, I got to meet up with bits and pieces of the old "crew" in Broadripple-- where Leslie and I used to meet up with friends in the area. It was a new experience, to sit around a table with familiar faces without her at my side, busting my chops and loving on me all at the same time. It was encouraging and heart-wrenching to look into the teary eyes of people we once loved together-- some of whom had not seen Leslie or myself in years-- as I recounted bits of her story. As we shared tears and beverages and laughter and hugs and stories and memories. It is just so surreal to be reminded that these are people who are grieving Leslie, and they have not really had the daily experience of "living without her" to help them along their way. It's like it was almost as therepeutic for them as it was for me, to sit there and listen as I spilled my guts and wrestled out loud with the thoughts and events of the past year-plus. Crazy...
This is just so much different than I expected. I never thought it would feel this "normal" to just sit around a table at the Broadripple Brewpub or Ambrosia, or at Anna's house, or wherever with our group of friends and/or family, minus Leslie, and just remember her... to talk about life and death and God's love and suffering and how it all somehow makes more sense now, when piled all on top of itself. It is odd to look across the table and see tears as I share stories with friends who I have not talked to in months or even years, who miss Leslie dearly... It is beautifully heart-wrenching to witness their grieving of my wife, whom I am learning to live without. That's what this is, you know... Living. Certainly, without her... But living, nonetheless... Living all the more. Carrying her with me. Telling stories. Sharing her legacy. Partaking alone of the cup we once shared. And somehow... enjoying it...? It is just all too... perfect.
Indeed, one cannot fully experience life until one has experienced death. One can only know joy to the full extent that one has fully known suffering. One has not lived by faith until one has experienced true trial. Those words of Paul, of Jesus, of Job, of David, of Solomon, of Peter, of John... that Truth has never been truer... My faith has never been stronger. Life has never been fuller. Now that I'm home and back to work, with those memories of beautiful moments and conversations of the last several days in Indy fresh in my mind, I again praise God and give Him thanks for Leslie. I've said this before, but each day it is even increasingly so... She taught me how to love. She taught me how to die. And she is teaching me how to live.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Sure, there have been sentimental moments-- even difficult or sad ones. Here is just a sampling:
- Just the other night, I was pondering with a friend my New Year's Eve plans. December 31 was always a great night for Leslie and me. We'd typically spend it alone, watching movies on the couch, enjoying the sentiment of the moment together, sharing bottle of wine. Perhaps we'd celebrate with one or two other couples, but we just weren't New Year's Eve partiers. And (no offense to the dear friends we've spent New Year's Eve with in the past), the most special "Midnight, January 1" moments were just spent alone-- she and I and our bottle of wine. We'd fall asleep on the couch, often before midnight, even. We'd wake up with couch-sleep-stiffened necks in the wee-hours of the new year, have our kiss, and then go to bed. And now, I find myself wondering... "What do I do this year?" (I'm not soliciting invitations, by the way. In fact, currently, I'm leaning toward just doing it like we always would... Put TJ to bed, watch a movie, have a glass of wine, and share the moment with the memory of her... blow a figurative kiss goodbye to 2008 and all the terror and beauty and suffering and victory and peace and love it wreaked on our lives, and welcome in 2009-- a new year... another chapter... Only maybe instead of a kiss, there will be a prayer... maybe even before I fall asleep on the couch. I'm rather looking forward to it, to be honest.)
- TJ and I decorated the tree on Saturday-- a beautiful and full 7-ft. Frazier Fir with white lights and all the decorations we've accumulated over the years, complete with a little toy train running around the base (TJ's favorite part). It was such a wonderful time together. TJ took great pride and joy in precisely hanging each decoration. He kept looking outside and asking if it was going to snow soon. (Much to his joy, we got 3" Sunday night.) Indeed, a beautiful pallet of new memories is being painted onto a new canvass, which TJ and I will adore forever. But how do I not miss Leslie in all of that?
- Christmas decorations were always Leslie's department. I always set up the tree in the stand and hung the lights on it, and then she took over with the decorations while I'd go outside and do the yard lights. After decorating the tree with TJ on Saturday, I ran out of time and wasn't able to get to my usual outside lights responsibility. So, we only have a tree-- a beautifully lit and decorated one at that, with its festive little toy train and the angel on top. But the outside lights will have to wait. Along with the rest of the inside decorations-- I had no idea how much of a task it is just to dig all the wreaths and garland and candles and nativity scenes and knick-knacks out of storage... And I have NO freaking idea WHERE she actually PUT all this stuff, once it was out of the boxes. It is all so overwhelming and emotional to assess and try to make sense of in my mind. I realize now how much I'd overlooked the sentiment attached to all those silly little decorations.
- Thanksgiving with her extended family was so different. A good share of my time was spent playing basketball with the men, as is the tradition. But come dinner time, I became suddenly acutely aware that nothing else was the same. I felt that I didn't know how to just engage in casual conversation with anyone-- and I sensed they kind of felt the same way with me. I mean, how will these people-- this family that has adopted me into their fold-- ever again look me in the eyes without immediately being consumed with thoughts of Leslie? I felt loved, to be sure... appreciated, admired, even... but more than that, there was this feeling of Leslie being missed. It's the type of thing that is to be expected, and easily predicted... but the reality of it didn't sink in until the moment was upon us.
On Thanksgiving Day, I began embarking on the endeavor of sending out "thank-you" notes to the hundreds of people who sent us gifts (financial and otherwise) over the past 15 months. Leslie and her mom had begun keeping a "tab" of all the gifts that were so generously and abundently arriving daily in the mail. I know some were missed or overlooked, but I think we recorded most of them. It was always Leslie's goal to sit down, "after this was all over" (in her words), and hand-write little thank-you cards to everyone, much like we did after our wedding. But alas, I am a mere man. A glorified form letter will have to suffice. But as I address the envelopes, and write recipient-specific little footnotes as I sign each card, I review the list of gifts and the people that sent them-- so many people I don't even know. And I am truly humbled and grateful for the love of Christ exemplified-- in fact lived-- through this "list" of people over the past year-plus. Anyway, in this glorified thank-you form-letter, which I penned on Thanksgiving Day, I reflected:
Today, as I ponder the memories with which Leslie left us, I am not sad. Maybe it’s just the holiday spirit… but I’m truly thankful. I’m thankful for the amazing seven years of life she gave me. I’m thankful that she’s no longer suffering, and that she is now complete in all her beauty and splendor, united with her Lord in perfect love. And I’m thankful for the life she has left us to live. I’m thankful for her today, just as I have been for the last 7 Thanksgivings. How I wish I could tell her myself, as I have each of those last 7 Thanksgivings! Instead, today, I say yet another prayer, and ask Jesus if He can let her know, on my behalf.
What I’ve really been trying to get my arms around, in terms of my gratitude this Thanksgiving Day, 2008, is how each of YOU— my family, friends, and even some strangers— have been such a wonderful example of God’s goodness, grace, and provision, in very real and tangible ways, to our family this past year-plus. Certainly, there was so much pain, sadness, hardship, tears, suffering… even death. But you— the Body of Christ— were indeed light in the darkness. Your prayers and encouragement got Leslie through many difficult days, and they continue to do the same for me these days. And perhaps even more humbling was how you all rushed to our aid in generosity and benevolence… truly a tangible symbol of God’s grace and provision.
There is a Glen Phillips song that Leslie and I used to listen to on the way to her radiation and chemo treatments. It's an up-beat, rock-style song. We'd blast it in the car when she needed a little "pep-talk". The words of the chorus simply repeated... "We've both got a lot to be thankful for. We've got a lot to be thankful for..." (and so-on.) That was her attitude-- our attitude-- in her darkest days. It is my attitude this holiday season. How can I be overwhelmed with sadness when I have so much for which to be thankful? How can I be lonely when I'm surrounded by the very tangible love of God, as lived by His people-- you, my readers, supporters, friends, and family? How can I be absorbed in the morbid thoughts of death when the reality of Heaven is so much clearer to me now? How can I mourn life lost, when the life I've gained is as full and beautiful as it is? And how can I get lost in wishing Leslie back to earthly life, when I have the reality of the life of this beautiful little boy she gave to me... and all the life he gives me?
Yes, I've got a lot to be thankful for. A lot to be joyful about. "Peace on earth..." "Emmanuel, God with us..." "For unto us a child is born..." The gift of new life. Completion of a covenant. Victory over death. And sparkly trees, toy trains, snow, and Santa Claus men at the mall...
Happy Holidays, everyone.