Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ashes and Dust

It’s Ash Wednesday, today is the day that I place Ashes on the forehead of members of my church family. Today is the day that I say “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Which, let’s be honest, is really just a churchy way of saying “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.”

I promise, it’s not as bleak as it sounds.

But, it is an important reminder.

We are all going to die, there is no escaping that. So, the real question is, what will we do with the time we have on this side of God’s Kingdom.

Will we use this time to merely store up Earthly treasures, or will we (as Christians) strive to do our best to love and serve God and our neighbor.

Ash Wednesday kicks off the season of Lent, a time of reflection and repentance. During this season our desire to return to God and to return to our spiritual disciplines is more amplified than usual.

Yes, it is Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that we are but dust, and to dust we shall return.

Naturally, writing my sermon today made me think of Tiffany and the short amount of time she had with us on this plane of existence.

Two memories came to mind, the first of which made it into tonight’s sermon.

Thinking of Ash Wednesday caused me to think about what we do with the time we have before we return to dust, it should cause all of us to consider what we will leave behind when our time here is done.

Will we be remembered for who we were and how we treated people? Or, will we be remembered for the things we possessed and left behind?

This question took me back to Mexico in the Summer of 2012.

Tiffany and I had taken a small honeymoon immediately following our wedding in 2011. Uncle John and Aunt Barb had graciously offered us a getaway to the cabin in Northern Minnesota. We had a wonderful week in the Northwoods.

However, our “real” honeymoon was planned for the summer of 2012. Tiffany’s grandparents gave us the gift of one week in their timeshare in Puerto Vallarta, and they also gave us enough skymiles to get there. What a treat!

We had a great time in Mexico. We met some cool people, we ate some great food, and we soaked up a lot of sun. But, no trip would be complete without at least one trial or tribulation to overcome.

We got duped into a timeshare presentation.

We got off the plane, we ran through a gauntlet of timeshare presenters in the airport, only to get caught at the last second by a guy claiming to be from our hotel. He gave us a map and a shot of tequila, so I figured he couldn’t be all bad. He showed us where everything was on the map, and then he showed us brochures for all of the fun stuff. 

Then, get this, he told us about all the free/discounted stuff we could get if we just sat through a presentation. He gave us 50% off discounts for zip-lines, a romantic cruise, and a city tour. And all we had to do was give him the money up front.

Now, I have to tell you that I had never been to Mexico before, I didn’t know anything about how this stuff worked.

Tiffany had been several times with family.

Back to our story. So, the offers are on the table, he just needs the discounted payment up front. Tiffany looks at me and says, “sounds good to me.” To which I agree, “if we’re going to do this fun stuff anyway, we might was well get a discount.”

My frugality will someday lead to my demise.

After the transaction, Tiffany and I finally get into the car taking us to our hotel. She then turns to me and says, “I hope that wasn’t a scam.”

My stomach sinks.

“Wait, what!?”

I said, “I thought this was normal, I thought you had done something like this before. We just gave that dude 125 pesos.”
To which she replies, “No, I thought you thought it was a good idea.”

Oh dear…

A cab was arranged to pick us up the next morning to take us to the other resort so they could pitch us their timeshare presentation.

I laid awake most of the night.

I was sure that we were going to be kidnapped and our organs were going to be sold on the black market.

Morning came and so did the taxi.

Along the way to our destination, a bus roared by our cab and hit a puddle. That puddle water leapt through our open window and into my mouth. I was sure that it was a bad omen.

We arrived safely. The place wasn’t sketchy at all. And besides the high pressure, brow beating sales pitch at the end we had a decent time.

During our tour of the resort, the guide wined and dined us as he told us about all the awesome things that the resort had to offer. Of course, he used all of the sales pitch questions he had been trained to use. All of which were carefully crafted to convince us that we needed to purchase timeshares from his company.
Then came my favorite question.

“When you’re gone, what would you want to be remembered for?”

Surely, he was using this as an angle to work in the fact that purchasing a large portion in a timeshare would enable me to have something to pass down to my children and grandchildren. Yes, someday they too could sit in on an awful timeshare presentation experience and fondly remember that it was I who passed this wonderful gift down to them…

But, my answer wasn’t what he expected.

“When you’re gone, what would you want to be remembered for?” He asked.

“I’d like to hope that people will remember me as someone who left the world a little bit better off than how I’d found it.” I answered, in all honesty.

He was speechless.

Tiffany almost laughed out loud by how off-guard my answer caught him.

He didn’t have a ready-made timeshare pitch prepared for that answer.

Thinking about the symbolism of Ash Wednesday reminded me of that day, and more specifically that conversation.

Because, I still feel the same way.

As I ponder mortality, I’d still like to be remembered for who I was, not for what I had.

And hopefully, when people remember who I was, it will be as a man who loved God, his family, his friends, and as man who tried to do right by friend and stranger alike.

But enough about me, because this post is about Tiffany.

When I consider the symbolism of Ash Wednesday, and how we spend our time and energy before we return to dust, I thank God that Tiffany gave us more than “possessions” to remember her by.

She didn’t leave us timeshares or a fancy Stradivarius violin.

She left us with memories of her love, beauty, compassion, thoughtfulness, and grace.*
(*Grace, as in how well she treated everyone she met. Not how gracefully she tripped over and/or spilled anything and everything.)

I was hiking and searching for Bigfoot with my friend Josh over this past summer. Josh is not only a friend, he is a pastoral colleague. During our hike we were waxing theologically, going back and forth as we usually do. Then the subject came to eschatology, a fancy word for what you believe about the end of the world.

As we talked about the old things passing away and the new heaven and the new earth, and how God will make all things new and wipe away every tear from our eyes. It really caused me to consider how thankful I was for God’s light that we all saw through Tiffany.

Losing Tiffany was the largest lesson in the impermanence of this world that I had ever learned.

However, through the impermanence of this life, I was able to more fully appreciate the one thing that is permanent, God and His love.

Furthermore, I learned that the most important thing we can do on this side of God’s creation is to love and serve God and neighbor as best we can. Because in the end, that’s all that matters.

As Josh and I chatted and hiked that day, I could feel that emotional lump in my throat well up as I was able to put into words for the first time just how important it was to me that Tiffany left behind a life of love worth remembering. Because the light and love that shone forth from her was the light and love given to her by our triune God.

During that conversation it really sank in that even though her life was cut short, she had done what God had called her to do with the time that she had. Out of dust she was formed, and to dust she has returned, but during the time in between she really made it count.

Though the sting of death is still very sharp, I have come to find some peace in knowing that while she was here she did the only thing that mattered. She loved as God had loved her.

She loved her family, she loved her friends, she loved her co-workers, she loved the students she worked with, and she loved the strangers we encountered in our ministry.

And most importantly, she recognized where that love came from. She spread the love given to her by God, and she returned the love given to her by God.

Was she perfect? No. Was loving all of the aforementioned always easy for her? No.

But she was always willing to try. And she was always willing to ask God to help her.

I think of all of these things on this Ash Wednesday and I am thankful.

I’m thankful for the life of love that Tiffany showed us, because in the end it’s all that really matters.

I pray that when each of us goes back down to dust, we can be remembered for such love.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return…

Grace and Peace,

Abner

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Every Day is Holy Saturday

Many of you know that I'm a Lutheran Pastor. That lumps me in with other church traditions that are often labeled "liturgical". (Technically every church has a liturgy of some sort, we're just typically labeled Liturgical because basically we follow a consistent order of service on Sunday mornings and we follow a liturgical church calendar, but I digress...)

Part of that calendar includes a week that we call Holy Week, which happens to be this week. It comes at the end of the liturgical season of Lent. (Lent isn't just a Catholic thing...) Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, where we celebrate Christ's entry into Jerusalem. Some traditions observe special days almost every night of Holy Week, however, our next big night is Maundy Thursday. On Maundy Thursday, we remember the Last Supper, Jesus washing the disciple's feet, and Jesus' command that we love one another just as he has loved us. Next, we observe Good Friday, the day that Jesus was crucified.

For those of you following along, you've probably already figured out that Holy Week concludes with our celebration of the resurrected Christ on Easter Sunday. However, I skipped one important day, a lot of people do. The day between Good Friday and Easter is typically called Holy Saturday or Easter Vigil. In the Catholic tradition, it's a big night for baptisms...and looooooong church services. However, many other people skip this day.

It's not a surprise that many people skip Holy Saturday, it's a painful day. Jesus is dead, the disciples are hiding, nobody knew what Sunday morning would behold. As if Good Friday wasn't hard enough, the disciples saw their leader, their Lord, their teacher, their Messiah die on a cross. Hung there by the oppressive Roman occupiers, left there to die like a criminal.

Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews

Jesus' followers may have believed he was going to rise again, but they had no way of knowing that he would rise again. In fact, if you read Mark's Gospel, (as we are this liturgical year) you will see that the women going to visit the tomb aren't looking for the resurrected Christ, they're going to finish the funeral process. 

It's no surprise that many people skip Holy Saturday, Hell, most Christians outside of the "liturgical" traditions don't even observe Good Friday. We love to talk about resurrection, but we don't like to acknowledge death.

Jesus was dead. One third of the Holy Trinity died on the cross.

We don't like to acknowledge Jesus' death because we have a hard time coming to terms with death in our own life.

Most people who ignore Good Friday are the same ones who will tell you, "You shouldn't be sad that your loved one died, they're in Heaven now."

But the truth is, death wasn't easy for the disciples. And, it isn't easy for us. Faith wasn't easy for the disciples. And, it isn't so easy for us.

But, again, we love to skip  Good Friday because death is inconvenient and the resurrection is awesome. When Jesus died on the cross, his disciples didn't high five each other and say "Glad that's over! Our sins are forgiven, we get to go to Heaven!"

No, they hid. They were heartbroken. They were terrified. They knew that they had denied and abandoned Jesus. Their faith was shaken.

These very disciples who walked alongside Jesus were not positive that they'd see him again.

Holy Saturday, was a long, painful, sorrow-filled, day of despair and doubts.

Many of you know this feeling. Many of you have experienced Holy Saturday when you have faced the death of a loved one. 

Furthermore, you know that some part of every day can feel like Holy Saturday. Grief. Doubt. Pain. Separation. Despair. And, like the disciples, you're wondering how Jesus is going to fix this.

Some days, you get to move forward. Some days, you encounter the risen Christ and you know that all will be well. But, there are also some days that you go back to Good Friday, you see Jesus dying on the cross, you re-live the death of your loved one.

But, for those of us who grieve, most days are Holy Saturdays.

I remember someone asking me how I felt during Tiffany's funeral, and I told them that I felt like those scared disciples hiding out on Saturday praying that Jesus would rise again.

Even on my best days, I still have moments where I feel like those disciples. Trusting in everything that Jesus said, but never truly knowing.

This is what faith is. Faith is trusting and believing, not knowing and being absolutely positive.

However, in the Holy Saturdays of our lives, we must remember that they are holy. They are holy because God lives into that tension with us. 

God knows our grief. We are told that Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. So too does Jesus weep with us at the death of our loved ones, our loved ones who were doing God's work here on earth.

God knows our fears and uncertainties. We are told that Jesus prayed for the cup of suffering to be taken from him in the Garden of Gethsemane. So too does Jesus long for our cup of suffering to be taken from us, on the day that he will wipe away all of our tears and make all things new.

God knows our despair. We are told that as he hang dying on the cross, Jesus exclaimed "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" So too does Jesus hear and understand our feelings of forsakenness when we cry out to him in our pain and despair.

Holy Saturday is just as important as the rest of Holy Week, because Holy Saturday can be every day of our lives when we are separated from the ones we love.

It's important that we recognize and live into that tension during our times of grief. To deny it is to downplay or mask the pain of separation. To downplay the pain of separation, we ignore the deep love we held for our loved one.

You can't have resurrection without death.

You can't get to Easter Sunday from Good Friday without living through Holy Saturday.

Fortunately, like the disciples, we don't have to experience our Holy Saturdays alone. We can grieve together, and we can help each other along as we wait.

And we all know, waiting is the hard part.

May our wait not be too long.

Come, Lord Jesus.



I pray that you all experience the hope of the risen Christ as you celebrate the resurrection tomorrow, on Easter Sunday.

Grace and Peace,
Robert

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jax was more than just a Dog

I used to be a real jerk about how much people would get so attached to their pets.

I used to think, "geez, it's just a dog/cat...what's the big deal?"

That all changed when I saw how heartbroken my mom was when she lost her faithful dog, Baby.

For all intents and purposes, Baby hated me. So, I never had much attachment to her. But, she was by my mother's side for the better part of a decade. She was her companion. She was her friend. She was part of the family.

When Baby died, we lost a part of the family. Losing a part of the family sucks. I finally understood how people could get attached to these silly pets.

I was attached to a silly pet, his name was Jax.


Jax was more than just a dog.

He was Tiffany's first dog.

He was our dog.

Everybody loved Jax.

Jax was rescued by my friends Eric and Julie Beer. Jax was being neglected by his owner. He was left outside in freezing temperatures. Weather so severe that it left frostbite marks on his body. Weather so severe that his chain would be frozen to the ground and he wouldn't be able to lift his head. He had a permanent mark around his neck where that chain used to be. He was also severely malnourished. When Eric and Julie rescued him he was skin and bones, almost unrecognizable to the healthy 80 pound dog he was supposed to be. When Eric took him to the vet for the first time, the vet didn't charge them a dime to get Jax everything he needed to start nursing him back to health.

Eric and Julie gave him a loving home and nursed him back to health.


Not long after Tiffany and I were married, we started talking about getting a dog. I didn't want one because we traveled too much. But, she argued that it'd be nice to have a dog at the house with her to keep her "safe" while I was working late nights or out of town. Of course, she eventually wore me down and we started thinking of what kind of dog we could get.

(For the record, Jax only looked like a good guard dog. On several occasions, friends and repairmen came into the home while we were gone and Jax never even bothered to check them out or bark. He was usually found in this position or something similar...so much for keeping Tiffany "safe" while I was away.)


Tiffany and I decided that we liked Bully breeds and we'd probably look for something in that family. Shortly after that, we were at Eric and Julie's house for a church game night gathering and we saw Jax for the first time.

It was love at first sight.

That lazy pup walked right up to us, plopped down, rolled over on his back, and demanded that his belly be rubbed.

It wasn't long after that night that Julie and Eric asked us if we wanted Jax. They knew we wanted a Bully and they had originally only planned on keeping Jax long enough to nurse him back to health, but they kept him longer because he was just too damned lovable. 

It didn't take us long to say yes.

Tiffany loved that dog.


I did too, of course.

Another reason we wanted a dog was to make us learn how to adapt our busy lives to take care of something. If we could adapt to having a dog, we could adapt to having a kid. I know, there's a big difference between pets and kids, but you catch my drift.

So, we had this big dog, and we took him everywhere. He was a road warrior. One summer, Tiffany drove him all the way to the cabin in Northern Minnesota by herself, and I drove him all the way back by myself. That's a 14 hour trip, one way! He made the trip there and back twice.


Jax was our boy, and we loved him dearly.

He slept 20 hours a day.

He snored.

He farted all the time.

He did no tricks.

He often made one of us late to work because he took his sweet time going potty in the morning.

He didn't like to play.

He only wanted one thing in life, he just wanted his belly rubbed.

Everybody loved him.

He was a great first dog for Tiffany. 

He was the perfect dog to match my laid back attitude.

He was a part of our happy little family.


After the accident, I couldn't take care of Jax any more. I was very nomadic during the early months. It wasn't fair to him that I would be home even less than I was before.

The night of the accident, Eric and Julie took him back into their home. They kept him until I could find him another home.

In the days following the accident, several people were generous enough to offer to take Jax in.

Ultimately, Jax went to live with Brian and Rachel Jackson...and of course, their pug Herman.

I was so thankful that they took him in. They gave him a loving home and I could see him anytime I wanted to.

A few weeks ago, they had to have Jax neutered. The vet was concerned that his production of testosterone was negatively affecting his prostate.

Much like old men, old male dogs suffer from prostate problems too.

After the surgery, Jax was on heavy pain meds and appeared to be doing better. However, once they started weaning him off the meds, he slowly got worse. Noticeably worse. So, they took him back in to the vet.

The vet deduced that something bigger was probably going on with his prostate or other internal organs. It was probably cancer. He only seemed better while he was on the pain meds because they were covering up all of his pain, not just his post-surgery pain.

Chances are, he'd probably been in pain a long time. The vet told Brian and Rachel that the Bully breeds are know for being tough, stoic dogs who won't let on that they're hurting because they don't want to inconvenience their owner. They're that loyal.

Faced with limited options, we decided it was best to have Jax put to sleep. It was the most loving and ethical decision.

(Brian called to discuss all of this with me last Friday. So, if you saw a big, bearded guy crying in the Denver airport, it was probably me.)

I had the option to go see him one last time, but I couldn't. His passing was going to be hard enough to face as it is. Seeing him in person and rubbing his belly would only make it that much harder.

Jax was put to sleep last evening.

Brian stayed with him the whole time.
(Poor Brian. Not only did he have to put my dog down, he had the unfortunate task of calling all of my close friends to tell them about the accident because his was the only phone number I could remember.)

Jax was more than just a dog.

He was Tiffany's dog.

He was our dog.

He was a part of our little family.

That family of three has been reduced to one.

I'm going to miss Jax, but obviously, the tears I cry are covering a multitude of grief platforms.

Jax was one more thing that Tiffany and I shared that is now gone.

I knew that he would die someday, but Hell, we're all gonna die someday. Acknowledging that doesn't make it any easier when it actually happens. 

I hope that we can all take comfort in knowing that the last half of his life was Heaven compared to the Hell he faced for the first half of his life.

He was surrounded by people who loved him.

Jax was more than just a dog.

Jax was our companion.

In Genesis, the author teaches us that God created animals to be our helpers, to be our companions.

Jax certainly helped us enjoy life more. He helped us learn more about love, selfless love.

I thank God for Jax, and it may sound silly, but I believe I'll see Jax again. 

Not only do we learn about God creating animals in Genesis, the author of Revelation tells us that every living creature in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth sings praises to God in the final days. I believe I'll see Jax there, along with every other person and animal that I love.

Jax was more than just a dog.

Jax was a beautiful creature of God, and he taught me a lot about love.

Rest in Peace sweet boy, until we meet again...

Monday, December 8, 2014

It's Been a Year


I've heard it said that losing a loved one can be like losing a part of your body. Part of you is missing. You can't replace it. You can try to find substitutes, but you can never truly replace what you have lost. 

You can also learn how to continue living life after you lose a body part. You may walk with a limp, or you may never throw a football again. But, you can learn to do other things. You can still manage to live. You can find other hobbies, you can find new things that will make you happy.

But, a part of you will always be missing.

You may not always think about it, but occasionally you will be reminded. You will see someone else walking with a limp. You will encounter someone who is struggling with what they've lost. And, it will remind you of what you've lost. In those moments you can find strength and solidarity in knowing that you're not the only one. Or, you will be reminded of what you used to have, and how hard it is to go on without it.

Losing a loved one is a lot like losing a part of your body, much of what I said above still applies. The biggest difference is, others can't see it. Others cannot see the hole in your heart. Only you, and those close to you, know that it is there. And, it's a lot harder for people to notice when it's causing you to struggle.

One year ago today, I lost a piece of my heart.

One year ago today, my wife died in a car accident

It still feels like yesterday.

It still feels surreal.

I can still hear her voice when I think about her.

I can still see her beautiful face when I close my eyes.

I went to our old house last week to pick up our vacuum cleaner that I had left behind for the cleaning crew. As I walked around the empty rooms looking at the places where so much life had occurred, I was prepared to let myself grieve. But, nothing was coming. This was kind of a good sign. It let me realize that maybe I had properly done all the grieving that I needed to do in that space. But, on my way out, I stood and looked at the door that leads to the garage, a door that I had watched her walk through a thousand times, and I thought about how I'd give anything to watch her walk through that door one more time. Then, I was overcome with emotion.

It's been a year.

It's been a year, and I still miss so much about her:
-I miss her enthusiastic, contagious laughter
-I miss how she would steal my wool hunting socks and I could never find them when I was looking for them
-I miss how she would have to hang her clothes out to dry all over the house so that they wouldn't shrink
-I miss how she would destroy the kitchen when she'd cook
-I miss the freckle in her palm that I would only notice when I gave her communion
-I miss how controlled her climate and environment would have to be in order for her to sleep
-I miss the funny things she would say on the nights she'd take Ambien
-I miss her impeccable planning and organizational skills
-I miss how much she hated cats
-I miss how she would call me out on my bullshit
-I miss the way she would wave her hand in the air while she would "rap" the parts of her favorite songs
-I miss making fun of her accent when it'd come through
-I miss her only understanding half of what I said because of my accent
-I miss how much she loved and supported me
-I miss how easy it was to love her

I miss her from the deepest part of my being.

It's been a year.

Where do I go from here?

I don't honestly know.

I'm just going to keep moving forward the way I have tried to, with the help of God, my family, and my friends.

What does the one year anniversary mean anyway?

I know it's not going to magically stop hurting because it has been a year. The year mark is something we do as humans because we love to quantify things. But the truth is, it only measures that it's been 365 days since we've suffered an unspeakable loss. Nothing more. Things do get different over time, but it's not the time elapsed that changes things, it's what we do with that time.

Perhaps because of this "year" mark, I will allow myself to grow and heal in different ways. Perhaps, I will give myself permission to do so.

But, the truth is, I've been growing and healing for many months thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit and God's word made flesh in the people who have surrounded me. It's been a slow process, and I'm still a work in progress.

One of my biggest fears is the worry that because we've hit the "one year" mark people are going to expect me to have all of my shit together. Or, I'm going to be less patient with myself and think that I should have all of my shit together. But, if we can be honest with ourselves, none of us really ever have all of our shit together. We only convince ourselves and others that we have our shit together enough to pull off what we're trying to do in life, and we trust that God will sustain us along the way and strengthen us when we falter.

It's been a year.

I can't be more thankful for the love, prayers, and support that many of you have given me.

It's been a year.

I've made it this far, I might as well keep going.

It's been a year.

And a day will never go by that I don't miss her.

Grace and Peace,
Robert

Sunday, November 30, 2014

"Chiseled in Stone" and other sad old country songs

Growing up, I learned how to sing by listening to my Dad sing along to country music while we rode around in his truck. Johnny Cash, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Alabama, Garth Brooks...he sang along with all of 'em.

That's also where I learned to love many of the same songs that I love today.

One of those songs is by a country singer named Vern Gosdin. Vern's name doesn't carry the same weight these days that the aforementioned names do, but the dude could sing.

One of his biggest hits was titled "Chiseled in Stone".


It's about a man getting into an argument with his wife and then running off to the bar to drown his sorrows. While there, he encounters a fellow patron who informs him he should be grateful for what he has. Because, as he says, "you don't know about lonely or how long nights can be, until you've lived through the story that's still living inside me. You don't know about sadness, until you've faced life alone. No, you don't know about lonely until it's chiseled in stone."

I remember the first time Tiffany heard that song. We were at the 8 Second Saloon seeing David Allan Coe in concert. (If you want to hear wilder stories about that concert, just ask me in person.) Ol' DAC is known for doing medleys at his concerts, sometimes they're fun, sometimes I think he just doesn't know all the words. Either way, Chiseled in Stone came up in a medley. In the middle, he explained that his wife had passed away (which I later found out wasn't entirely true) and that this song conveyed how he felt. The sad, heartfelt words of the chorus made Tiffany cry; right there, in the middle of a DAC concert.

I thought about that Vern Gosdin song, and I thought about how it impacted Tiffany, last Wednesday when I picked out her headstone.

It was another difficult milestone, along with facing our first Thanksgiving without her.

I don't know why it took me so long to pick out a headstone. It's not something you need to rush into. But, I don't think I was ready for it when I was in Minnesota back in June. Honestly, I don't think anyone is ever ready for it. But, it's something that has to be done. 

Picking out a headstone is pretty permanent. It's another sobering reminder. It's not something I planned on doing this early in life.

What do you put on the headstone of the person you planned on spending the rest of your life with? How do you convey to the world who they were? How do you take a slab of stone and make it say "one of the finest people who ever walked the earth, who was gone too soon, who meant so much to so many people, and I feel sorry for you if you never got to meet her"?

Tiffany's father and cousin accompanied me to the cemetery and we laughed through tears as we thought of how full her headstone would be if we went wild with descriptors "Wife-Daughter-Sister-Cousin-Friend-Niece-Violinist-Volleyballer-Croc Enthusiast-Child of God..." We could have filled up multiple headstones.

But, that's not the norm.

So, you pick a headstone. And you do the best you can.


Let me tell ya, that ol' Vern Gosdin song is right.
You don't know about lonely, or how long nights can be...
You don't know about lonely, until it's chiseled in stone.

One would think that maybe a man like me wouldn't want to listen to those sad old country songs any more, but the truth is quite the opposite. Those sad old country songs have gotten me through some of my loneliest times. The loneliness of loss is often accompanied by the loneliness of isolation, the feeling that you're the only person who has ever felt this way. Those sad old songs remind me that I'm not the only country boy who has ever faced loss or been sad before.

This doesn't mean I'm lonely all of the time. I stay pretty well surrounded by people who love and support me. But, I can't be surrounded by people all the time. It's not possible, and it wouldn't be entirely helpful for the healing process. 

I know that there are plenty of people who are just a phone call away when I face deep loneliness, but sometimes I've just got to spend that time talking to Jesus and listening to sad old country songs.

-

The one year anniversary of Tiffany's death is a week from tomorrow...can you believe that? Some days I can, some days I can't. The days can be so long, but the months go by so fast.

Please continue to keep me in your prayers as I face yet another difficult milestone. But, I won't face it alone, I've got plans to be with friends and family...and sad old country songs...and of course, the Holy Spirit.

Grace and Peace,
Robert

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Grieving Comes in Waves

Grief is a cruel mistress.

You never know just when or where it will hit you.

About a month ago, I was part of a community church service with my Wesleyan and Catholic colleagues. After the service, there was a community meal. On my way out, I saw a boy coming in to partake in the meal.

I recognized him, but I couldn't remember where it was from. 

Then it hit me.

Last summer (2013), my church partnered up with the Wesleyan church to put on a community movie night. We projected a film on the wall of the community center, we had free drinks and popcorn, and we invited the whole community.

We had a good turnout. About halfway through the film, a mother and son wandered over to see what was up. The little boy wanted popcorn, but you could tell that the mother was hesitant because she didn't know if it cost anything. Someone told the little boy that the popcorn was free and he came running to his mother shouting, "It's free! The popcorn's free!"

This kid was stoked about some popcorn.

It brought tears to Tiffany's eyes. To know that she was a part of something that made this little boy so happy meant the world to her. It was the sort of thing she lived for. It was the sort of thing that motivated her to work on our community projects. She just loved to help others.

That's where I recognized the little boy from.

It took me right back to that movie night. 

It took me right back to the heart of my compassionate wife.

I cried the whole way down the alley walking back to my church from the community center.

That's what grief does to you.

-

Some of you may have noticed that I haven't written on this blog for a while. In fact, I was just commenting the other day to some friends that I didn't know when I would write on here again.

It's not that I'm "over it" or done with grieving, there just didn't seem to be anything worth saying on here. The blog had been my outlet, and it helped me a lot. But, I didn't feel compelled to "make" myself sit down and blog if I didn't have anything new that needed to be said.

That being said, can you guess why I'm writing this post?

I needed an outlet.

I've been in a funk.

And you never really know that you're in a funk until you step back and take a look at yourself. It takes some self awareness.

My friends with depression have told me that it's like you see a dark cloud coming, but you fail to realize you're already standing under one.

I know the feeling.

The last time I was in a funk like this, it was the weeks leading up to our wedding anniversary.

I was unmotivated, I was emotional, and I felt lonely in a crowded room.

Guess how I've been feeling lately...

Check, check, and check.

So, I started doing the math. I felt this way before our anniversary, a milestone in the first year of grief.

Guess what's coming up...

another milestone.

My ordination is less than three weeks away.

This was a day that she and I had been working toward together. A day that was the completion of a goal we set together. A stepping stone in the vision of our lives together.

And she's not here to celebrate it. She's not here to see the destination reached. She's not here to see the goal accomplished.

And that hurts. It hurts down deep.

I think I figured out why I've been in a funk.


Now, that doesn't mean I've spent my recent days in complete misery.

I've been spending time with the best friends and family that a guy could ask for.

I went hunting in Wyoming with my Dad.

I worked in a haunted house with my good friends the other night.

I still watch wrasslin every Monday with some of my best friends.

And, I still record a podcast with my best friends.

But, none of that will ever fill the Tiffany sized hole in my heart.

Nothing will.

The motorcycle, the records, the concerts, the tattoos, the golfing, the guns, the travel adventures...

None of it will ever fill the Tiffany sized hole in my heart.

The real trick is to enjoy and appreciate everything that I mentioned above for what they are. 

They will never fill the Tiffany sized hole in my heart, and I should never fool myself into thinking that they will.

I love my friends and family, and I enjoy the things I do. But, the hole remains. I just have to continue to allow the space around the hole to grow larger and be filled with more love. (Refer to this previous post for reference)

And, I have to continue being patient with myself. It's only been ten months.

I will always grieve the loss of my beautiful wife. And, that grief will continue to sneak up on me the rest of my life.

But, I must continue to heal and move forward. I have to continue living a life worth living. But, I must remember to be kind to myself along the way.

I'm glad I wrote this post, I feel a little bit better already. But, I'm not stopping here. I made an appointment to see my grief counselors on Tuesday, they'll work me over pretty good.

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you all,
Robert

p.s. I found this old note from Tiffany when I was cleaning out the house and I hung it up in my office. She would always stick little notes on my sink or in my bag before I left for a trip. I know that she is still looking over me with these words...



Sunday, August 24, 2014

Seeds of Hope, Echoes of Sorrow

Sometimes, the hardest part of moving forward is realizing that you have no other choice. 

Well, perhaps moving forward isn't the only choice. But it is the only viable one.

We want to move backward to where our loved ones were. 
We know we can't do that.
We want to not move at all. The dull consistent pain of stasis is easier to handle than the sharp pains of new birth. 
Rebirth. 
Resurrection.

You can't have resurrection without death. 
Death stings. 
In order to rise anew, part of you has to die.

Though a part of my wife will always live within me, I must realize that part of me died with her.

In that death, I must seek resurrection.

Sometimes it's a lot harder to move forward than other times. Especially when it involves literally moving.

Moving and settling into my new home has been going well. My new home is in a great location, and I get to hang out with my Muncie friends consistently.

I need that. 

The life that my friends (in Muncie and elsewhere) give to me is part of the resurrection process. 

Last week in church, someone asked me how the move and the settling in has been going. My countenance must have substantially changed because they smiled and they said, "You look happy."

I think I'm ready to let myself feel happy again.

But, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

This doesn't mean that any of this has been easy, nor does it mean the experience of moving hasn't seen it's share of grief.

After a night of packing, and following a day of working, a came home to the boxes stacked up in the living room and it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Oh God, this is happening.
The last time there were boxes stacked in the living room, we were moving in.
Newly Married.
Our whole lives ahead of us.

It was overwhelming.

The next week, I was having a terrible night packing.
Just struggling.
I had my phone in my hand trying to decide who to call to help me chill out a little bit.
My phone literally went off in my hands.
I managed to at least say hello before I started going off like Ron Burgundy after Baxter gets kicked off the bridge.





My friend let me cry it out, and then got me laughing pretty good before we ended our conversation. It was just what I needed.

Sometimes, ya just gotta get it out.

I also faced the difficulty of packing up some of Tiffany's things that I hadn't found the courage to go through yet. 

Throughout this whole process, it has been hard for me to go through the trivial everyday things that she laid down planning to come back to.

The things on her sink.

The things on her desk, among them the church bulletin from the day of the accident.

Her office at work.

The things that remind me of how abrupt her departure was. 

When the day came for us to make the major part of the move. I still hadn't touched her desk at the house. I hadn't found the time or emotional energy.

While we were hauling some stuff to Muncie, members of my church family hung around the house to help pack and prepare more stuff for another trip.

They packed up the things from her desk for me.

The boxes are clearly marked and I can go through them when I'm ready.

Sometimes, you've got to let people help you do the things you're not ready to do.

Sometimes, you've got to be okay with accepting that there are still some things that you're not ready to do.

I'm very thankful that they packed that stuff up for me. I'm sure they knew it was what I needed.

Then I had a birthday.

As if shaving my beard, moving, and getting approved for ordination* wasn't transitional enough...I had to process celebrating my first birthday without her.

Tiffany took birthdays seriously.

Cards, cakes, favorite beers, you name it. She pulled out all the stops. Last year, she even got me prosciutto! And, an Indy Brew Bus tour!

We used to buy concert tickets for each other for birthdays. That's why I was so thankful that my friends took me to see Kiss and Def Leppard this past weekend. We kept part of the tradition alive and we had an awesome time. (Except for the lack of sleep)

On my birthday, I sat thinking about her in my office at work and how she liked to make a big fuss about birthdays.. I listened to the rain POURING down outside of my office and I remembered something she used to tell me.

Rain is used as a plot device in literature and film to signify change. (She reminded me of that every time she made me watch The Notebook.) 

Then, naturally, I began to think about the use of water in the Biblical narrative. 

The Israelites were led through water to deliver them from oppression to new lives of freedom.

The water of baptism sets us free from the bonds of sin and death for new lives in Christ.

Both significant changes for the people of God in each of the Testaments involving water. 

I thought of all of this as I sat in my office listening to the rain that day.

It was a Holy Spirit moment for me. I had to sit back in my chair and take it all in. 

My wife and the Holy Spirit were with me in my office that day.

Change does occur, but so does new life. There is resurrection.

I think I'm ready to let myself feel happy again.

Grace and Peace,
Robert


*To be discussed in a future blog.