Tendrils of sunlight
dissolve hard frosts
like gentle words
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.
It’s Saturday morning and laundry load #2 spins while I enjoy a tea latte and rays of sun. More chores require my attention, but they are content to wait, to allow this day to unfold purposefully and leisurely.
I scroll through some pictures on my phone, thinking that it is time to delete a few.
And this one stops me.
Not because it is particularly unique or stunning – it’s just a little hillside path from a brief bike-hike a few weekends ago. At the time what caught my eye was the contrast between angled green foreground and horizontal purple background.
What stops me today, however, is the unintended focal point of the composition, the juxtaposition of two trees – one dead, one alive. One black etching on a background of green. One skeleton on a hillside of life.
And then I realize that this unassuming snapshot is actually a perfect visual metaphor for living with loss. The grief doesn’t go away. It is always part of the picture somewhere.
But only a part.
The rest of the picture teems with life that keeps reaching for light and anchoring in steep rocky soil and waving and whispering in even the slightest breeze.
Just because death exists doesn’t mean that life stops.
And because life continues, sometimes we forget to acknowledge that for many there is a resident grief-tree. A photobomber of life moments.
But maybe, just maybe, the presence of grief makes all the green-ness of life that much more meaningful and rich and appreciated.
By grace alone.
Today I extract the memories with care
Perhaps this year they’ll be easier to share
vivid and valued
fragile and fading
precious and painful
But once they lay on the table before me
adequate words to express them simply flee
So I enfold each one in love anew
and tuck it gently away from view
There is a place deep inside
where these treasures will always reside
A place where grief and grace meet
the rhythm of this mother’s heart beat.
I just did a search on Pinterest for kitchen tables. No shortage of images here – everything from rustic worn farmhouse tables (totally ‘in’ right now) to elegantly decorated masterpieces (seasonally appropriate, of course) to instructions on how to paint, build, refurbish, or repurpose them as flowerbeds or doormats – well, maybe not those last two, but you know Pinterest – it’s not impossible.
NOT ONE of these images included any people at the tables. I found that profoundly interesting.
I have recently had two very un-Pinterest-Perfect experiences with kitchen tables.
The first involved a well-used oval oak pedestal table with a veneer top badly in need of refinishing but easily disguised with placemats. There were people at this table – five adults besides myself, empty-nesters realizing that the Freedom 55 thing was never more than an ad gimmick. There was food, too – a potluck-style prime rib dinner. And candles.
The second involved a large rectangular table, quite new, with white cushioned chairs. It was a table worthy of Pinterest for sure, except for the fact that it also had people around it, munching on mozzarella poppers (with or without jalapeño) and pretzel chips- five adults besides myself, ex-teens realizing that the adulting ‘thing’ is actually harder than it looked. No candles.
Other than the food, which is quite common at most tables, there were other things being served at both of these tables: memories and ‘catch-ups,’ laughter and possible puns, comfortable conversations flowing from shared pasts now reclaimed to fortify the present. Interspersed with and undergirding all of the light-hearted camaraderie were the real reasons why these kitchen-table scenarios were beyond Pinterest-worthy of recognition.
At each table, every single person regardless of age, occupation, gender or hair-colour, brought something more: heaping containers of grief and confusion next to the pretzels, various bowls laden with hurt and discouragement surrounding the jar of sour cream for the baked potatoes. This is where the real feasts took place – not to gorge on the bitterness of these dishes, but to come together and season them liberally with honesty and genuine listening and caring and loving and fresh insights and perspectives, so that when we finally step away from the table a sweetness lingers long and deep. That the conversations spill over with tears or overflow into the living rooms only enhances the feast.
May they continue to spill and overflow into our lives – those spaces we literally and figuratively inhabit each day.
May we reclaim our kitchen tables for this kind of open, honest, searching, burden-sharing, praying-caring feasting that nourishes lives that are too often starving for purpose and clarity and hope.
May we sit around our tables and truly see and hear one another above the noise of daily living, the lies of depression and loneliness, the aching of loss and discouragement.
May we unapologetically fill our tables with the messiness of life because we care more about each other than some ideal of perfection; we are doing life together and Pinterest Fail episodes come with the territory. We’re okay with that.
May our tables become places where grace is lived, extended, and embraced, not just said before a meal.
Let’s reclaim our kitchen tables for conversations that truly matter.
“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose, new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes.” G K Chesterton
Indeed, it is not a new year that is needed, but a new way of living the small moments that collect, collide, and coalesce into the larger collage of time we designate as a year.
New eyes – to see the wonder of the ordinary, to understand the significance of the mundane, to know the profoundness of simplicity…
New ears – to perceive truth when lies seem more credible, to attune to quietness when the noise of living deafens, to discern wisdom when uncertainty mires me in the crossroads…
New feet – to walk softly alongside the broken, to tread expectantly upon the ancient paths, to run and not be weary…
New hands – to release rather than clench, to cradle rather than crush, to reach out rather than withdraw…
A new heart – to pulse life in spite of the gaping holes left by death, to stay in sync with God’s heart instead of sliding into discouragement’s arrhythmia, to remain tender and malleable rather than retreating into the stony protection offered by a myriad of hurts…
And all of these things:
Eucharisteo. With gratitude.
Coram Deo. Before the face of God, the Audience of One.
Sola gratia. By grace alone.
My trusty car, Maggie, developed a problem as soon as the weather turned cold. Actually, the problem existed before frosty mornings became the norm, but we weren’t aware of it until we actually needed a fully functioning defrost system. Although I’ve only seen the notorious London fog on cheesy detective movies, I could easily imagine myself in the thick of it when I tried to peer out the side windows. No matter how high or for how long I cranked the heat and the fan, the windshield had wide frame of frost and a narrow field of vision. Clearly, Maggie had problem. No pun intended.
It took some head-scratching conundrum-mumbling and an extended stay in The Shop while mechanical surgeons dissected Maggie’s Dodgely dash, but almost three thousand dollars later they discovered that the problem was a broken door. The little door that either recirculated air inside or allowed in fresh outside air was broken in the recirculate position. All that hot air I was blasting at the windows was just circulating around and around and condensing and freezing – the opposite of what I needed it to do. Blurry fog and opaque frost on windows aren’t exactly conducive to safe driving. Little broken things sometimes cause big scary dangers.
Sometimes life feels like a little broken door somewhere keeps us in recirculate mode. Although outer accoutrements might change, the same core disappointments, discouragements, hurts, and griefs keep going around and around, coalescing and creating a numbing fog that permeates thick and deep in our souls. It’s exhausting, this recycled living. We long for clarity, for fresh air, for newness in the midst of the reoccurring and wearying old. We wish someone would fix the little broken door and give us a chance to rest and recover. To defrost and defog.
But perhaps, just perhaps, we also begin to see through the haze and weighty blur that there are other things that keep coming around again and again as well. The presence of cloud or fog does not change the fact that the sun continues to make its rounds each day, the stars continue to spill their glitter across inky skies, and the promises of God continue to bring new hope with each faithful dawn.
And perhaps, just perhaps, we come to recognize that maybe the little broken door isn’t meant to be fixed. Not yet. Maybe being revisited by discouragement and grief keeps us revisiting the One who promises that He will yet make all things new. Perhaps we come to depend more fully on God’s providential perspectives when we are most mired in the foggy places of life because it is in those spaces that we are most aware of our own inadequacies and of His complete sufficiency.
Perhaps the broken little door that allows the recycling of hard things also recirculates the grace and strength to face them….again.