☕️ 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

🌾 Rumble and Chug

In this prairie place where I live, old farm machinery testifies to the tenacity of generations beyond our ken. Forget regal statues and impressive monuments to mark history. Give us some rusted metal contraptions of various sizes, shapes, and purposes and we can find our roots entwined in there somewhere.

While the massive combines and specialized equipment of modern farming are impressive, what I am most fascinated with is the cockeyed arrangement of gears and chains and wheels and belts that somehow all worked together to make this old threshing machine rumble and chug and separate wheat from chaff.

That this unglamorous, boxy, metallic conglomeration even had a useful function seems unlikely. That its functioning depended completely on the contribution of even the tiniest gear cog speaks to both its ingenious design and its vulnerability.

The metaphors for living in family and community are not lost on me. As ungainly and disparate as our interconnectedness may seem at times, we need each other: a simple truth with all the complexity and intricacy of an old threshing machine. This, too, speaks to ingenious design and vulnerability.

But oh, the grain-like goodness we can thresh, the chaff we can winnow out, when we all cog and sprocket and pulley at the speed and rotation we were individually designed for.

Let’s rumble and chug, shall we?

Woven Together: A Life

Lately I’ve begun imagining my life as a lengthening cord of woven strands. The cord is multi-coloured and lumpy with portions of the weave wide and thick while other sections are narrow and patchy.  Each strand represents a person who has been a part of my life – those who remain integral to the core weave are easily recognizable, and the ones whose strands only appear for small segments are just as easy to overlook.  

I’m not exactly sure what started me on this reflection – perhaps some recent conversations that reminded me of valued relationships, perhaps a continuing dissatisfaction with shallow representations of relationship enabled by social media, perhaps my age which continues to sag toward words like ‘old’ and ‘retired,’ perhaps just the need to see life on a larger scale than the narrow confines of the present. Whatever its origins, the reflection has turned out to be an exercise in humility and gratitude.

Part of me wishes I could speak to some of the people who only knew a much younger version of me.  I (mostly) am not that person anymore, but there is something very comforting in knowing that for all my immaturity, naivete, and awkwardness, I was still seen and known and loved.  

I wish I had been more at ease with myself back then.  I wish I had been more aware of others and their needs.  I wish I had put less energy into trying to find my place and more of it into living fully in the community where I already belonged.  

I am grateful for the people who bring such strength to the early strands of my life – you represent my history, something that few people in my present world know or understand.

Family members are firmly woven into my life-cord – some right from the beginning, others entering in their appointed places along the way through birth or adoption or marriage. The strands of these relationships have been shaped by many things, sometimes losing their luster in the give-and-take, taken-for-granted, yet shifting priorities of an expanding family unit. Sometimes strands frayed and needed mending. In a few places knots hold things together again. As unsightly as they may seem, these knots declare that there are relationships that must never be abandoned.

I wish I knew my family better. I wish they knew me better – not the me they knew from growing-up years or the newly in-lawed years, but the present day, still-flawed-but-growing-in-grace me.  

I am so very grateful for the ways the strands of family have both deeply blessed and challenged me – you represent a foundation necessary to understanding so much of myself.

The strands of friendship are of particularly varied lengths, textures, and colours. Some are long and strong, bridging weak areas, smoothing broken edges, providing continuity for things like hope and purpose.  Patterns woven from our shared memories are often delightfully refreshing and continue to inspire me. I’m equally saddened by the strands that end abruptly. If I look closely where they disappeared, I sometimes find dark threads of hurt and even anger, and I have to carefully pull them out. Again. Discard them. Again. Choose forgiveness. Again.

I wish I had been a better friend. I wish I had learned earlier what I am still learning now: how to just be with others without comparison, without judgement, without needing attention or questioning how to fit in. Sometimes I wish others had heard my heart when my words weren’t working very well.  I wish I had been a better listener.  

I am grateful for the many strands of friendship woven in from childhood to the present – you represent a dynamic and living community that has both shaped and sustained me.

One particular strand begins the day a certain young man suggested that we go on a Saturday hike and I said yes. Several ‘yeses’ and an exchange of ‘I do’s’ later, our separate strands became permanently intertwined as one.  I can’t imagine my life without this man who continues to know me and love me anyway.

I have many wishes and regrets about my adequacy as a wife, and certainly about my ‘success’ as a mother to our three children, but I am grateful beyond words for the strong, faithful strand of my husband – you represent an anchor keeping me moored to truth about myself, about God, about us.  

I am grateful that although there have been many times when I have felt alone, the woven strands of my life remind me that I have never ever been without family, friends, and community.  

Grace upon grace.

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.

Juxtaposition

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.

16. A Thought. Or Two.

I think many of us think
that being who we are
is insufficient for someone
or everyone
so we live our lives
trying so hard to be
adequate included noticed
valued acknowledged appreciated
that we forget
to simply be.

I think it may also be true
that in our trying so hard
we actually fail to
include notice value
accept acknowledge appreciate
others who are just being
who they are.

What the Snow Reveals…

It’s a new year and I’m thinking about snow. And not because it is actually snowing (intermittently) after several days of cold too brittle for freshly formed flakes. No, I’m thinking about snow because I like the way it covers and hides the Uglies: roadside litter, dead leaves, brown grass, brown everything. It creates a pristine white blanket that sparkles fresh and clean. A new year often carries that same sense of clean promise; I’m not fond of looking at last year’s Uglies.

It’s a new year and I’m thinking about snow because it not only hides and cleans, it reveals. The Uglies may not be currently visible, but my backyard is hardly a glistening untouched rendition of white Christmas dreamscapes. No, my backyard and beyond are riddled with evidence of lives lived. Thoroughfares, interchanges, exit ramps, fence-crossings, and assorted detours carved out by pointy-hoofed deer and moose would befuddle even the most skilled cartographer. A private frontage road runs along a section of the marsh berm, thumped out by some rabbit road crew. Teeny-tiny paths imprinted by a gazillion teeny-tiny mini-rodent toes form scurrying connections between shrubs and bulrushes. A meandering single track across the frozen marsh signals that a lone fox is on a hunger-prowl.

I’m ever so grateful that I do occasionally see some of the critters that inhabit my backyard and beyond, but the snow reveals how little I actually know about the nature of their presence, their comings and goings, their patterns of movement and hunting or foraging. Snow even reveals where they burrow for shelter or crater their beds.

I’m thinking about snow as a new year begins because I wonder what my last year would look like if it was etched out like the intersecting freeways that have pockmarked and crumpled the pristine covering of snow around my home. What would be my most worn pathways – worry? grief? love? Where did I burrow most often – in work? in front of a screen? in prayer? If someone was observing my ‘tracks’, what would be revealed about my priorities, my faith, my fears, my weaknesses, my integrity?

As we step into the pristine newness of this year and each day it contains, may we give careful thought to the paths for our feet. May we pause at this crossroad of time to look and ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and choose to walk in it. *

May I live in such a way that my comings and goings reveal a life surrendered to the Giver of life, Creator of snow, Sustainer of the millions of sunrises that we group into days and months and years.

* from Pr. 4:26 & Jer. 6:16

Recirculating Problems

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.