☕️ Facing Hard Things

A Saturday Caesura

A new week began like most weeks do. The previous week with all of its ups downs and all arounds was, for better or worse, done. So here was this new week and you were grateful for the fresh scent of it, for the whiffs of promise wafting by on the first minutes and hours.

And then SLAM BANG BAM, you were flattened by a Very Hard Thing. Maybe you knew it was lurking in the shadows but hoped that ignoring it would make it go away. Maybe you saw it coming, but your last battle with a Hard Thing left you worn out and ill-equipped for this new Thing. Or maybe it wasn’t really a new Thing, just an old one returned to reclaim ground. Or conquer more ground. Maybe you didn’t suspect that this Very Hard Thing would ever exist in your life. And yet there you were, flat on your face, gut-wrenched, drenched in fear and despair. There were other emotions, too, but separating them from the messy mass enough to name them was an exercise for a calm and ordered mind, which of course, yours was not.

Too many people I know have been bowled over by Hard Things recently. While outwardly, hands, feet, whole bodies continued to propel through the Necessary Things, internal chaos churned and choked out hope and joy and purpose. Hard Things are…well, hard, even though their appearance, their weapons, their power are different for each of us.

I can’t tell others how to face their Hard Things, but I do know that Hard Things can be toppled over and stripped of their strength by prayer. I know this can sound like a pat answer dripping with “Christian-eze” and religious platitudes, but my lived experience keeps bringing me back to prayerful surrender to the God who knows All Things, has faced Very Very Hard Things on my behalf, and invites me to trust and rest in him for Every Thing.

It was through prayer that the Hard Thing of my week was replaced by a gentle and generous grace. Inner chaos settled into a quiet fatigue, then restful peace, and finally, gratitude and growth. Do I feel victorious? No, not really. But I do feel loved and seen and known and sustained. Sola Gratia.

☕️ On Wind and Weariness

A Saturday Caesura

Wind weary we are. When normal prairie winds brush across the land, we put on a hat or tie our hair back and get on with life. But when big weather systems start jousting for territory, winds become aggressive, blasting, relentless. And we become weary. Weary of the moaning and blowing, of the whip and lash of hats and hair and jackets and snow and branches and shingles and siding. And our wind-weariness bleeds into our other weariness of all the Stuff and Crazy and Chaos, and we just want the only wind to be the quiet, steady breathing of our world and our lives at rest.

So when we are weary, what do we do? How do the windblown walk without listing and faltering? How do we, the world-weary, live without being torn from our roots and flapping twisting breaking crashing?

We keep showing up.

We keep doing what matters, even if it feels ragged and frayed. The doing becomes more than itself. When we keep creating and working and learning and praying and loving and caring, our roots find purchase in deeper soil. When we keep showing up for each other, our words of respect and encouragement become sturdy windbreaks behind which beauty and grace can flourish. We can breathe here, together.

So here’s my advice to myself at the end of a wind-weary week: when everything is big and blustery, find the small and calm. Show up there. Enlarge those borders where you can. And if you can’t enlarge, fortify. Small doesn’t have to become big, but it does need to be wind-resistant. ▫️

☕️ Semester New Year Reflections

A Saturday Caesura

February is like a second new year for some teachers: old semester done, new semester begun. Fresh starts, new students, and resolutions in the form of course outlines and long-range plans. Even as I anticipate Monday’s new classes, there is a lingering sadness with the realization that in spite of the connections I make, when students complete my courses (grade 12 in particular), they will move on. The hours with them — learning, laughing, struggling, growing — will be a small blip (if that) on the radar screen of their years. Memories will fade as life continues its pace. They leave; I stay.

Yes, I know that teaching is, for the most part, a short-term relationship gig, but I still feel a particular emptiness at semester-end and at graduation.

In many ways, life is comprised of these come-and-go relationships. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, but sometimes I wonder if we abandon some relationships too easily. When the “things” that bring us together to begin with — school, church, work, family, activities, interests — are removed or fractured or worn out or burned out, what happens to us? Do we pretend we never knew each other? Exchange pleasantries when we meet in the grocery store aisle? Become Facebook friends and peek into each other’s lives from time-to-time? Maintain a manageable distance through friendly but guarded conversations? Or do we seek new connections that move us beyond that initial “thing”? Do we fight through the change, distance, absence, or inconvenience to live as if this relationship still matters?

Yes, I know that relationships take time and energy and most (all?) of us are parsimonious about how we allocate those resources. Yes, I know that some relationships need to end, and some are necessary but can only hold together because of a healthy distance. For most of us though, such situations aren’t the norm. Most of us, I suspect, just slide through our relationships on the path of least resistance. I know I often do.

But I also know that every relationship — fleeting or long-lasting, easy or hard — contributes to the larger story of our lives. And part of that larger story for me is that several young people I know and care about have transitioned from student to friend. I stayed, but they came back. We developed relationships built on something other than school: common interests, mutual encouragement, similar losses and griefs, a shared faith. And really, isn’t this what makes and sustains friendships and relationships at any level or age? It isn’t about convenience; it’s about forging connections through all the changes that inevitably come. It’s about saying that we matter to each other in ways that are worth preserving. It’s about living love.

So at this Semester New Year, I’m rethinking how I approach relationships, and not just those that arise from classroom connections. Maybe there’s a few that I haven’t fought hard enough to hold on to. Maybe there’s a few that I have fought for but need to keep doing so even when it is hard and I’m tempted to not bother anymore. Maybe I’ve written former friendships off without fully recognizing the ways that even these “short-string” friends still impact me (you’d have to have been in one of my classes to fully understand the string reference, but I’m sure you can figure it out). There’s no “maybe” about this though: the friendships I do have are a treasure and a gift, a grace and a joy.

☀️ Come

all who are weary and burdened,

which if we are honest,

is all of us:

fishermen and tax collectors,

doubters and zealots,

betrayed and betrayers,

women and children,

lame, blind, lost, bullied,

teachers, preachers, seekers,

carpenters, welders, garbage collectors,

doctors, mechanics, managers.

Regardless of skin colour,

earthly status or physical health,

or anything else —

the invitation is always, “Come.”

Come to me; listen and live,

follow and see what I, the Lord God,

have done…am doing…will yet do.

Come and find rest in me.

☕️ How to be a Listener

A Saturday Caesura

Make space for stillness.

Attune your ear, yes, but especially your mind and heart and hands.

Eschew all enticements to wander off beyond focus.

Steel against conclusions prone to back-flip over beginnings.

Resist fixes and platitudes which run rough-shod over love and grace.

Offer a whole presence though it may feel too easy and too hard and never enough.

Choose a heart posture that allows stories to breathe vent weep groan gush stumble spill sigh trickle scream…

Catch them. Hold them. Just hold them even if they leak between your fingers and feel sticky or heavy or slippery or awkward.

A Listener carries stories that aren’t meant to be carried

alone.

🌿 Resting in Peace

~for Justin

When peace like a river attendeth my way

Oh what joyful delight flowed the day you were born

When sorrows like sea billows roll

And then. That day flooded with deep, deepest despair.

Whatever my lot, You have taught me to say,

And today. Your birthday. With waves of emotion leaving me worn,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

but oh so grateful for all the days we could share.

#JDC#33

#30daysofpoetry #day11

*”It Is Well With My Soul” lyrics by Horatio Spafford.

Days of Small Things

Seven years have bumped and jostled along since our son’s suicide. Although grief occasionally changes clothes or dons various hats, it remains an unruly and unwelcome guest whose weighty presence still presses hard on my heart, still squeezes out tears to the point of overflow in awkward and unwanted moments. My recent reflections on how grief has changed and not changed (and changed me) over the past seven years were interrupted yesterday by a question.

The question is buried in the Biblical narrative of the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem under the leadership of men like Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel. Rebuilding anything from the rubble was a monumental task, made even more challenging by strong opposition from many sides. The small and tenuous steps towards reconstruction seemed inadequate – how would this ever result in anything that resembled the former glory of the temple before the Babylonians completely razed it?

Into this context, God inserts a question delivered through the prophet Zechariah: “Who despises the day of small things?”

We are not trying to rebuild an impressive temple, but we are attempting to rebuild life, knowing that it will never be as it once was. Life before our loss was as imperfect as it is now, but a missing loved one cannot be replaced, repaired, rebuilt.

This question stopped me because it gave me a new way living with grief.

Because we have just lived through seven years of days upon days of small things.

Rather than viewing all these small things – the sun rising each morning, food filling the table, rain replenishing dry ground, snowflakes sparkling in winter sun – as inconsequential in comparison to the magnitude of the loss or the longing for something that will never be again or never be at all, I am reminded that the small things are foundational to the ways that God is reshaping me and our family. In the story, the people rejoiced when the chief builder picked up his plumb line – a small tool and a small step in the face of the great task ahead. A small step in turning despair into joy.

It was a day of small things.

So I, too, am learning to pay attention to and find joy in the small things. The fact that grieving happens in a place of rubble rather than a finished edifice means that I have much to learn, and I can be grateful for the small beginnings that lead to greater hope and purpose and a deeper understanding of what God is building into my life.

So today I rejoice in lilies, planted after Justin’s memorial, that for seven years have brightened a corner of our backyard and my heart.

A small thing in the days of small things.