☕️ Lilies

A Saturday Caesura

Almost ten years ago, someone brought several potted lilies to our son’s funeral service. After everyone had gone home and the other bouquets of flowers had faded and withered, I planted the lilies beneath a cluster of trees in our backyard. It was an act of hope that they would survive the winter — that I would survive this loss.

Since then, the lilies have bloomed every year, and each year I have learned more about living with grief.

In preparation for this year’s Great Backyard Redo, I moved the lilies last spring — built a raised bed specifically for them, watched them bloom in early summer, and then worried that their roots would be too exposed to survive the deep freeze of winter.

I began looking for signs of life as soon as the snow melted this spring. For the longest time there was nothing. I started to consider that these lilies could actually die and the thought began stirring and renewing the grief that had brought them to us to begin with.

I began breathing again when they began poking up green.

They had survived another winter.

The lilies are now thick with golden blooms. The taller ones will soon add splashes of burgundy red and I’ll keep breathing in the beauty and breathing out gratitude that although death is inevitable and grief is inescapable, life is full of unfathomable generosity and goodness.

☕️ Half Lives

A Saturday Caesura- with sorrow

I’m not particularly prone to use movies as tools to reflect on real life issues, but a couple of scenes from Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film, The Prestige, keep replaying in my mind as I attempt to process the recent exposures of notable Christian leaders and pastors who have been living duplicitous lives.

The movie tells the story of two up-and-coming magicians during the late 19th century. While it is ultimately a story of bitter rivalry and one upmanship, it is also a tale of duplicity. In the beginning scenes, the apprentice magicians, Angier and Borden, observe an older Chinese magician perform a seemingly impossible feat with a goldfish bowl full of water. Angier is baffled, but Borden recognizes the “method,” the secret: the Chinese man has pretended to be a doddering cripple both on and off the stage for years, a deception crucial to the success of his act.

The closing scenes reveal (spoiler alert) that Borden himself has a secret behind his most successful act, an impossible feat that requires a “double,” but which he never appears to use. The secret? Twin brothers living as one person. On and off stage. For years. Borden confesses, “We each had half of a full life.” Half lives that gave the illusion of a full life of success and fame on the stage but brought death and destruction off stage.

I’ve thought of this in light of the Ravi Zacharias story and other similar situations over the past months and years. I’m wondering if the core issue is not that these leaders have lived double lives, proclaiming Christ from their public platforms while desecrating God’s name in their private behaviours, but that they have actually lived half lives.

When an expert in the Hebrew scriptures asks Jesus to identify which commandment is the greatest, Jesus replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” All. Your whole life. No justifications. No false pretense. No duplicity. No half living. Only a wholly obedient and faithful love for God. “I have come, ” Jesus declares in the gospel of John, “that they may have life, and have it to the full.” No half lives are intended in God’s economy of mercy and grace and forgiveness and transformation.

Without full obedience to the first and greatest commandment, there can be no proper fulfillment of the second command to love our neighbour as ourselves. Without commitment to the first, our love for others becomes skewed, disordered, manipulative, abusive, self-serving — in essence, not love at all.

I grieve for the victims; they have not been loved according to God’s standard of love. I grieve for the families, friends, colleagues who have been betrayed and now face the accusing fingers of those who would also hold them responsible for not seeing through the act, for a measure of complicity in the harm of half-living. And in my grieving I am reminded of the Lord’s promise to King Solomon: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

We need humble repentance. We need healing. Oh, how we need to end the charades and live wholly for the God we say we love — on stage, behind pulpits, in bedrooms and living rooms and government offices and work rooms and shops and hallways and basements. If we claim to follow God, then it must be with all we are and wherever we are regardless of who we are.

Then maybe we can begin to truly love as we have first been loved.

☕️ Living a Scroll

A Saturday Caesura

Last week I spent several days helping my mother-in-law move into a senior’s home. To use a common metaphor, she has entered a new chapter, one of the ones typically reserved for the final pages of life.

The book metaphor for life is a familiar one. The visual of turning a new page seems appropriate to describe new opportunities, especially if those opportunities signal hope for something better than previous pages. We end chapters and start new ones at graduation, marriage, the launch of a career, the birth of a child…the move to a senior’s home. The metaphor seems to serve us well, but I wonder if there is a better one.

Rather than compartmentalizing life into chapters or stages or pages, I’ve been envisioning it as a unified and continuous whole – a scroll, if you will. Although my mother-in-law’s circumstances have changed, she is still the person she was prior to this move. At almost 92, she embodies many experiences and roles and geographies that influence and shape who she is becoming. Yes, I think she is still becoming even at 92 – still learning, still being formed by her choices.

We all are, regardless of our ages.

The person I was before high school graduation is still very much a part of the person I am now as a wife, a mother, a teacher. The person I was before marriage informs the person I am in marriage. I am no less a mother to my adult children than I was when they were toddlers or teenagers. My responsibilities have shifted, to be sure, but motherhood is not relegated to some earlier chapter of my life.

The scroll metaphor challenges our desire for tidy endings. Pages have final words. Chapters have closing paragraphs. Stages of life should as well, shouldn’t they? But what if they don’t? Perhaps our need for closure on certain experiences leads us to peremptorily punctuate them with a definitive end-stop period, and in doing so we fail to recognize that God can use even hard, hurtful things to transform us, to aid us in both being and becoming.

On this weekend, the ninth anniversary of our son’s death, I know the heaviness of a grief that doesn’t have a definitive end in this lifetime. But I can’t compartmentalize it away in some previous chapter. It is written into my life, a scroll that continues to unroll and reveal that God has been at work in me from the moment I was born, from the moment my son was born.

Binding my life into a metaphorical codex encourages a form of survival-ism — a penchant for wishing a particular situation would just end, for adopting a ‘just-get-over-it-already’ mantra, for believing that things will be better when/if this or that happens. I just need to survive until then. If I’m tough and brave and courageous like the self-help gurus suggest, then I’ll make it to the next (and better) page or chapter. Maybe.

There are situations that need to end, we do have to move forward rather than cling to some things, sometimes life does improve when this or that happens, but rather than make those endings or beginnings the focus (and myself the mastermind behind them all), I want to see my behaviour patterns for what they are and recognize God’s relentless work to bring necessary change and growth.

He has begun a good work in me, but it is an ongoing one, a continuous whole that unrolls with each new mercy, with each day’s grace and goodness that never waver in the face of current circumstances, poor choices, or overwhelming emotions.

His steadfast love is writ large across this scroll, not merely footnoted on a page here or there.

Sola Gratia

🌿 Pockets

Carry many things.

Some useful —

wallet, phone,

grocery cart loonie,

a comb.

Some special —

copper penny,

feather, pebble,

a memory

so tender — but tangled

with a grief too heavy

for a pocket to hold

without a

bulging, tearing

falling out or apart

so the

pocket is stitched,

patched, reinforced.

A memory pocket full

(with grief)

is still better than

one that is

empty.

🌿 Birthday Card

If I could send you a card today,

what would it say?

🎉 Happy Birthday to one of my favourite people

🎉 Warmest wishes and love on your birthday and always

🎉 So grateful that God put you on this earth and in our lives.

You are one of my favourite people

I will love you always

I am grateful that God gave you to us for a time

But if I could send you a card

it would be a postcard.

On the front: a picture of our house

or of the view from the upstairs window (you know the one).

On the back: Wish you were here.

I miss you.

The Sound of Music

A Saturday Caesura

Working at home under self-isolation guidelines made for a quiet week. No bells. No hallway bedlam. No whispery undercurrent while I’m expounding the rules of subject-verb agreement. No bursts of laughter. No heated discussions. Just the ding dings of incoming mail and messages, my own voice the clatter of a Chromebook keypad.

Into this world of disrupted sound, I pause to listen. A train bellows its warnings (always 4 times). The neighbour’s broken-muffler car rumbles my sleep. Coyotes yelp at nothing and everything. Birds flutter and gossip at the feeder; geese honk on-the-wing. Water drip drips from the eaves, a gentle affront to the freezing silence of winter.

Into this percussion of life beyond isolation, I pause to play my piano (2 times), and the notes falter and trip, having endured their own long season of winter. My fingers search for a voice frozen by grief, hurt, discouragement. It’s a soft voice, hardly more than a pianissimo drip drip, but it is there and maybe spring will thaw this silence, too.

🌿 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.