Mourning with those who mourn…

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something…” So says Westley/the Dread Pirate Roberts to Princess Buttercup in the 1987 classic, “The Princess Bride.” While I don’t totally subscribe to the idea that life is ONLY pain, I can say from my own experiences, life involves a lot of pain… & I believe one of the greatest sources of pain comes from the grief & sadness which accompany the loss of a loved one.


Over the last year, I have walked through this thing called grief with several dear friends as someone dear to them – mother, husband, father, son, friend – died unexpectedly/without warning. These experiences of soul devastation have a way of shaking a person to the foundation of their very being, as life after the loss will never be the same as it was before. Living & loving in connected relationships leaves an indelible mark on us – & when our loved one is gone, life is not ‘ok’. Nothing is normal. Our emotions are all over the place. And anything more than merely gutting it through each day seems to be a pipe dream.

Places. Songs. Special events. Holidays. All things that remind us of our loved one, with a pain that mocks us with the fact that Nothing will ever be the same again. And then there’s the people – mostly well-meaning people that can see we’re in pain, & they’d like to do something about it, but they really don’t know what to say… & yet they say stuff anyways. These words can range from the silly, like, “The Lord just needed another angel in Heaven,” to religious clichés: “The Lord moves in mysterious ways,” or “One day you’ll know the reason God took your loved one.” Then there’s the insensitive, “How long are you going to grieve? Should you be past this already?” only to be topped by the horrifying: “God took your loved one because He knew that later in life they were going to fall away from Him,” or, “If only you had had enough faith, your loved one wouldn’t have died – it’s on you.” (I’ve personally heard each of these in reference to my brother’s death.) In the words of a great man, “If you don’t know what to say, limit your words.” (Thanks for that, Jerry Cook!)


Earlier this year, a dear friend lost her husband – & as part of her grieving, left her home town & went with her daughter to visit a collection of “safe people:” Close, supportive friends, the kind who have your back in any/every situation. TheBean & I count it an honor to be on this friend’s list of “safe” people. I can remember her sitting in our kitchen & matter-of-factly saying, “Tell me everything you know about grieving. Because I want to grieve well.”

Here’s the jist of what I said:

Our grieving, mourning, & hurting from the loss of a loved one can make us want to isolate. To withdraw. Turn inward. Pull away. Attempt to work through our grief solo. I get it. But I think doing that only makes it worse. As Christians, we (hopefully) have the benefit of a community of people that we’re walking through life with – people that we can celebrate life’s joys with… & people that we can mourn life’s great losses with as well.

I personally know how uncomfortable it is to be in a public place (like church) & be so overwhelmed & overcome with grief that the sobs just roll out, along with an endless supply of tears, & even a sense of pain that’s so fresh it feels like the loss just happened. Being around others in a situation like that can be awkward, because we’re totally vulnerable. Totally exposed. Raw. On our last nerve. And we hurt. And in that spot we cry & we pray & we ask God to make the hurt stop.

And then God answers our prayers with people.

  • People who will sit in silence with us, not having to say anything, but rather just offering the gift of their presence in our grief.
  • People who will hold & comfort us, no matter how long the grieving has been going.
  • People who aren’t in a hurry for us to “get past” or “get through” our grief – because they understand that even if its been years since the loss, the grief can still come in fresh & powerful waves.
  • People who will reminisce with us about our loved one. Who will tell stories about what they loved about them, about the things they did that impacted their life.
  • People who recognize that everywhere they go, they are a little piece of Jesus. And as such, when they come across others hurting, in pain, grieving, & broken, they can be a point of life & comfort.

There will always be those who say/do something that makes us wonder if its really a good idea to grieve/work through lives in the company of a community. I say It’s worth it. Maybe I won’t open up to everybody, but with the safe people, yeah, I do. And I will. Because when a friend comes alongside us in our grief, they shoulder some of the hurt & pain & loss… & it makes the situation just a little more bearable.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15 NIV

LA, HOTH, reputations, & other musings…

HOTHSummer of 1986, I participated in an outreach to Mexico City. The City was hosting the World Cup & our team was helping with a church start that launched during the tournament. On our way to Mexico, our team stopped in Los Angeles for a night… my youth pastor had attended LIFE Bible College when it was in Echo Park,  & he was able to get us a hook up so we could stay in the LIFE dorms for one night for free. The girls dorms. (This blog isn’t about that, but it was a pretty cool experience for a 16 year old boy to open a door to a dormitory & find out he is surrounded, literally, by dozens of college aged women. Makes me smile even recalling that memory.)

My youth pastor had regaled us with stories of how dangerous  Echo Park was… stories of muggings, vandalism, drugs, & burglaries. We were told not to leave the dorm & most definitely DON’T walk the streets. The stories stuck with me for the last 30 years, & in my mind, I have always seen downtown LA/Echo Park as a pretty dicey place, a dangerous place, a place I didn’t want to stop & smell the proverbial roses.


Last week, theBean & I went to LA for a 2-day coaching/mentoring intensive…& it was going to be happening in the “House on the Hill,” (a.k.a. HOTH, not the ice-planet. No Taun Tauns were seen,) so named because its a very big 9000+ sq/ft house on a hill. I knew the house was really nice, but it was in downtown LA.. a block from Sunset Blvd. Echo Park. Lots of crime. Gang activity. Bars on the windows & doors.  After we checked in, we talked with our hosts about the usual important stuff: where can we get food? He mentioned several places, noting that they were all in walking distance from the HOTH.

Walking? As in, walking walking?

Yes. Walking distance. And he told us a story. Over the years, the neighborhood changed. It got better. It became a really nice place to live, whether it was due to gentrificationurban renewal, new people/people groups moving into the area, or something else. I almost couldn’t believe it, & had difficulty trying to imagine the neighborhood being as my host described it, contrasted with the memories & ideas about it that were bouncing around my head at a million miles an hour.


And so we decided to walk to dinner. We’d been craving Italian food, specifically pizza, & of course one of the Best Pizza Places In All The Land happened to be a 15 minute walk away. (BTW – if you are in the area, you have to go to Masa of Echo Park We had the Lots of Meat Chicago-style pizza, & in my opinion, it was the best Chicago-style pizza I’ve ever had. And that includes Chicago-style pizza that I had in Chicago at the Pizzeria Uno. But I digress.) 

It was beautiful.

It reminded me of walking in a German city… the air was fresh & clean, & the streets were filled with  neighborhood markets, mom & pop stores, restaurants, & music shops (it is LA). And a COMMUNITY – a real, tangible community of people. It was obvious that it wouldn’t take too long to get to meet & interact with the people who lived there… the people in the neighborhood, living life, raising their families, & enjoying themselves.

My daily walks with our host confirmed it – we walked for about 2 hours each morning on a trail that took us through Elysian Park (We actually only walked for about an hour, but my host stopped & talked to people in their stores & along the trail so often the 1 hour walk lasted 2 hours. But that’s how he rolls. But I digress.) It is a truly incredible neighborhood.


I think one of the favorite memories I will take from this trip comes from walking the streets of the neighborhood, in Echo Park. The sights, sounds, smells, & PEOPLE of the city. I walk here at home, but its definitely not the same experience. No one will ever confuse Reno with downtown LA.

It also made me wonder. Did I do the same thing with people that I’d done with Echo Park? Here’s what I mean:

For years, I had “known” the bad reputation Echo Park had, & I’d rehearsed it often in my head & in conversations as friends talked about visiting LA… I didn’t need anyone to tell me anything new about LA or Echo Park, because I “knew” everything I needed to know about it. It’s a bad, dangerous, place. I had written it off.

Until reality confronted me – it’s changed. It’s transformed. Its the kind of place I want to take my grandkids to walk around & expose them to a different way of life. Its the kind of place I want to go back to. For the people. The restaurants. The feeling of life in the city.

And if we hadn’t decided to risk & trust our hosts & get out & walk the streets, we would have missed it.

People can get reputations too. One’s they’ve earned. Bad ones. Reputations that make you want to steer clear of them, because you “know” them & how they are. Except… what if they’ve changed? Been transformed? Experienced new life?

It’s worth it to try, to risk, to keep an open heart towards others… to NOT write them off as lost causes. Because God is a specialist in lost causes… in people with bad reputations. And He has a way of making them new.

 

 

Surprised & other musings on a Monday…

After Church yesterday, I was in the typical rush to prep for the next thing we had to do… 45 minutes of “free time.” Which means running around crazy to make sure life is dialed in for the next round of stuff. And then a smile. KIRSTIN. A dear friend who moved away a couple years back. But now she is HERE. Standing there with her Kirstin Smile. Surprise. Had to come to town for a ‘thing’. Thought she’d swing by to say “hey.” I wept.


We connected with Nick & Kirstin at College Group. Sunday night Study. Eating dinner together. Sitting in our living room with other friends. Reading the Scriptures. Questions. Debates. Ponders. (I declare Ponders is a word.) Prayer. Connecting. Sharing life’s joys. Pains. Challenges. Celebrations. It knit us together in a way that time & life will never separate. And it makes me think.


Last night, we had Study. Dinner. A great group of very diverse people gathered around the counter. Eating. Laughing. Enjoying each other. To the living room, everyone claiming “their” spots. Sharing their highlight of the week, giving us insight into what makes them tick. Reading the Scriptures. Talking about them. Chasing rabbit trails. Praying. Talking about the happenings of the day. I brought up my highlight – seeing Kirstin this afternoon. Daniel asked, “Who’s Kirstin?”

The flood of memories & life experiences shared flooded my brain as I thought how to answer him. And I said, “Kirstin is YOU Daniel, in a different lifetime.” We had a good laugh. And it made me think.

For the majority of the last 25 years, theBean & I have hosted people in our home on Sunday nights. It’s looked different – I’m cracking up thinking about how we used to go to the park next to our house & play BALL, a hybrid between rugby, football, soccer, basketball & handball. And MMA. There were several trips to the ER before that round of Study. I think of Cap’ns coffee stains on my floor. That boy couldn’t control a cup of coffee to save his life. I think of Josh-bum semi-napping on the couch, only to respond in context when asked a question. I remember pulling a newly dating couple aside & asking them to stop groping each other. I think of the Squirrel Gurls – 2 opposites that became like sisters.

I think about the privilege of seeing peoples’ lives developing & growing as they moved through high school/college into the life standing in front of them. In my minds eye, I see lives opening up like flowers as God healed them from life’s hurts, & blossoming into the people God made them to be. Pete & Debi becoming best friends. And then getting married. There are literally hundreds of memories of people flooding my mind. And I’m privileged to have been in this spot.

And many of these people have become ‘chosen family.’ People who have left indelible marks on our lives – & they have moved on, moved away, pursuing their lives, careers, & passions. And these people follow Jesus & inevitably help others learn to do the same through their life examples. And my heart sometimes aches as I miss them & the impact they’ve had on my/our life/lives.

And yet… God is good. He always sends more people. And it seems that the only thing we have in common is Jesus & a desire to pursue Him, His words, & wanting to figure out HOW to apply this to our lives, to bring it from theory to action & practice.

It gives me joy. And I feel rich. Because there is life. Meaning. Worth. In relationship. Community. Fellowship.

I love this.

musings on a Pancake Sunday…

Today is Pancake Sunday… meaning that in place of our regular Sunday a.m. service, we’ve got tables set up all over the sanctuary & we’re making (& devouring) at least 3 different types of pancakes: Plain with Strawberry topping, Chocolate-chip, & Blueberry. Just thinking about pancakes makes me happy.

Why pancakes? No real reason – I think it could be just about any food, but I especially love hot pancakes smothered in butter & just a little bit of syrup… so I can pick up the pancake & eat it as finger food.

One of the reasons we’re doing Pancake Sunday is to put our proverbial Money where our Mouth is. We spend a lot of time talking about the importance of authentic, connected relationships. Every Sunday we spend 10-15 minutes in “the middle” of the morning for connecting & reconnecting – talking & catching up – hopefully getting beyond the “turn around & say ‘hi’ to the person behind you…” knowing that building a relationship, a friendship, requires that we share time, space, & experience… & that this goes beyond sitting in rows looking at the back of the persons’ head in front of you… to facing each other & interacting.

Funny (& true story:) Last week at our Foursquare Convention in Atlanta, one of the speakers was talking about the importance of building relationship & community – he challenged us saying:

If you REALLY want to get to know somebody, you should sit around a table & eat pancakes with them. There’s nothing that brings people together like pancakes. And syrup.

It cracked me up – because it reminds me that the idea to do pancakes for ‘church’ isn’t unique to us… & that there’s a common thread & desire for knowing & being known that is popping up all over the place.


Last night at 10, just as we were headed toward dreamland, we heard shouts of alarm from thePastyOne downstairs. He’d been in the garage creating the usual culinary masterpiece: deep fried chicken, made with his special BBQ Hot sauce.

Turns out the water pipe leading to our water heater burst. Again. Happened last week as well, & fortunately, also as someone was in the garage to see it & minimize the damage.

So, after some trials & tribulation, we were able to get the main water turned off & the plumber called. Hopefully, they’ll be able to get the pipe replaced (again!) & hopefully it will hold for more than a week. And then we’ll have water powering the faucets, shower heads, & toilets…

The momentary inconvenience serves as a reminder to me… that there are a lot of people in our world (& some in our country,) that go without fresh running water every day. Something that can be done about that is to click HERE.


Got to thinking about friendship last week at convention after one of the main sessions… mostly about friendships that have faded, dissipated, waned, &/or downright disappeared. A few names & faces came to mind, & I pondered… with some of the people I know EXACTLY what happened, the very MOMENT the friendship started to go south. But with several others, I have no clue. Zero. Don’t have any idea of what took place (or didn’t…) what led to the drifting apart. The break down. The development of actual animosity even… which is worse than just losing touch… something has happened, some real/perceived violation (or series of violations) that caused a breaking. And I’m clueless.

Sigh.


Yesterday, I had the privilege of doing the wedding for Dave & Kim. I’ve known Dave for 9 years. He lost his 1st wife, Sue, to cancer a couple years back. It was incredibly painful ordeal for the family & for our church family as well. One of the most challenging & difficult seasons of church life we’ve navigated.

I found myself yesterday reflecting on the pain of death & loss. Grief. Confronted, & even surprised by joy. The strange mixture of all of the above. Seeing Dave so happy, absolutely beaming as he watched Kim walk down the aisle to him. I wept as they declared their undying love & devotion to each other, repeated vows, & spoke their thankfulness at all that God has done in bringing them together. So happy.

Dave got a job that will require him to relocate to Sacramento – meaning that the wedding was also a “goodbye.”

Sigh. My heart feels like mush.

learning stuff & other thoughts…

This past Friday & Saturday evenings, I participated in the Hillside Learning Community DVD ‘conference’ on Healthy Living by Joyce Meyer. It was the brainchild of theBean – get together with friends, eat, & watch/listen/learn. I’m glad I went – here are a few of my ‘take-aways:’

  • Sometimes, I can do something that I know is wrong (or at least not helpful) & I expect that God is going to step in & bail me out of the consequences of my choices. And I get mad because of it.
  • Its easier to blame God, the devil, & other people for bad stuff happening in my life than it is to look at my own choices, action/inaction, thoughts & behaviors as potential causes for what I’m going through.
  • When theBean claps her hands, it really hurts my right ear… its REALLY sensitive. She was an active clapper & participant in the conference, so on Day 2 she moved to another table so she could clap all she wanted to. And she did.
  • Sin is a terrible teacher.
  • I don’t think she talked about it, but it was reinforced that pride is a killer – & that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
  • On that note, humility, & humbling oneself is preferable to being humbled.
  • The thing that rises up in me to try to talk me out of an area of obedience to God is my flesh. No matter how it gets dressed up, explained away, or given a nice label. It’s just flesh. And I’m supposed to crucify it.
  • I love learning. Makes me miss school. Just a little.

  • Ellie says “Bommo” when I point to my Joshua Tree picture in my office. Makes an uncle so proud. She really liked “Mysterious Ways” today too.


    Two words: Gordon Biersch


    I’m on a tortilla craving kick… Hmmm. Yesterday it was chili n cheese in the tortilla. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?


    Ever heard the saying, “You find what you look for.”? Makes me wonder about the uncanny ability of some to find issues, problems, difficulties, etc. And the willingness (need?) to articulate the negativity anytime, anywhere.

    Makes me wonder just what I’m looking for… I’m thinking that I’m going to choose to look for where I see good… & God at work in & around me.

    Its a start.

    Boundaries In Marriage, #1

    A few years ago, (ok, now that I think about it, its more than a few. About…7? 8?) I came across a book that eventually ended up transforming my life & my marriage – it was Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend (which sounds like a great name for a ’60s folk group. But I digress…) Its one of the reasons that me & the Bean are probably going to lead a small group this Fall 2008 semester called “Boundaries In Marriage.” (I ripped off the title from another book. But that’s for later.)

    The high point for me was that it articulated very clearly & concisely something key for enjoying life in its fullness: we need to be able to say “Yes” & “No” – in a way that our outward declarations jive with our inner values, thoughts, feelings, emotions, & to me the most important – our relationships with the people closest to us. That a lot of us struggle with ‘people pleasing’ & end up functioning in an incongruent way – we are saying Yes to stuff we really want to say No to. And vice-versa. Because we want the approval of the one we’re speaking to. Or something like that. We’re afraid of being rejected. Minimized. Thought to be inferior in some way. Mocked. Derided. You get the idea.


    I’m going to blog about this in the context of marriage, but please don’t check out on me if you’re single – the concept applies across the board for close friendships/relationships. One of the biggest issues that this exposed was the very common choice in marriage relationships for one person in the relationship to choose to say “yes” to a person not in the immediate relationship to avoid conflict (or any of the above negatives,) knowing full well that it means that the person they’re married to will have to bear the brunt of their decision. In effect, they will ‘choose’ to fight it out with their spouse etc. rather that with the person of lesser status (meaning that the spouse takes #1 spot in life. Or should.) They ‘prefer’ the person that is not the spouse over the spouse. Which stinketh, because the whole ‘leave & cleave’ part of the marriage vows have to do with the ‘preference’ of spouse relationship over all others – not rejecting other relationships, but recognizing that if we’re marrying, this relationship takes preeminence over the rest.


    Hope you’re still with me – I’d never heard of Boundaries before, but I understood the concept – believing that we all need/have a set of life-guiding values that help us know what to say “Yes” & “No” to. And why. Maybe not everyone has these. The values help us to not be tossed to & fro by someone else’s ‘vision’ for our life – no matter how influential or significant the role they play (or want to play) in our life. Or have played in the past. Seems it usually pops up with extended family (parents, siblings, & others of that ilk) & close friends, but it sometimes happens elsewhere…


    This isn’t a unique issue that only a few ‘weak’ people struggle with; from my experience in pre/post marriage counseling, the area of ‘preference of spouse’ & knowing, establishing, & maintaining healthy boundaries is a major, major issue for a lot of couples. And if it isn’t for one spouse, it often is for the other. Which means its a problem for both. (Kind of along the lines of “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Or something like that.)


    Why did it change my life/marriage? I’ll get there. It’s dinner time – & I’ll pick up my ramblings when I get a chance. Ciao!

    goodbyes are hard…

    Aaron & Michelle are moving home for the summer, but they’ll be back in late August just in time for Aaron to subject himself to 21 units at the U of N, & for Miss Michelle to jump in for the opening of the Fall semester of Little Lites. The fact that they’re coming back in a relatively short time (as short as the summers are in Reno,) should temper the loss… but it doesn’t, really. Because I know that when Aaron graduates, they’re moving. And goodbyes are hard…


    So how does one deal with goodbyes? Here’s a couple of my favorites…

  • Avoidance – Some avoid relationships all-together, & become virtual hermits… Bizarro-scoeyd could do that. Has done that. Didn’t work out either, thanks for asking.
  • Denial – pretending its not happening. Creating an artificial reality helps, where people only exist when they’re in your presence. It helps if one has lots of practice at living in their own little world, but it’s pretty tough to sustain this one. Other people keep it complicated.
  • Embracing – kinda like the moment at camp, when the Friends song gets broken out at the end. People claim to hate it, but I think it’s really their favorite part of camp – being able to get all teary & clingy – maybe it’s an artificial grieving, maybe it’s real, but I think it serves a purpose, for at least a segment of the population. Cause people are going to move away. Or die. Or get married. Or I will. (not the married part. Done that.)

    I know that there’s many other means of dealing with goodbyes, but Friends is almost over. I never intended to post this morning, but rather to just roll through my blogs & catch up with friends. So as I read back over it, I feel self-conscious, because there are many more eloquent ways to state what I’ve stated, & if I crafted for a while, I might even find one. But instead, I’m just pondering. And feeling a bit melancholy.

    And setting myself to be a person who lives well. Embraces life. And relationships. They make life so much richer & deeper, which is probably why it hurts so much when a relationship changes, even if its ‘just’ geographic. I’m thankful for you.


    I miss you Dabey… :)
  • And a note about ‘community…’

    It’s a common & current topic at our staff table…

    Next to Jesus, God and relevant, “community” is the most popular Christian word. The challenge though is it’s a lot easier to say than it is to build. If creating one was as easy as renting a blow up jumping toy for kids and offering a financial planning class for parents, then 50 churches wouldn’t close permanently every week. But it’s a challenge and here’s why:

    People can tell when you’re trying to force a community to develop. Our radar to marketing is so sharp these days…

    MORE ON Community

    I love the “holding sand” analogy…

    Enjoy.