Transition

30 07 2018

butterfly

Photo by Pok Rie from Pexels

Transition is the word they use to mark the shift from laboring to give birth to giving birth.

The time has come for emergence from warm dark waters into bright light, gulp of air, expanse of space, and rush of unmuffled sound. Sheltered senses shaken awake, infant life finds its voice and joins the chorus of humanity. And at least one little corner of the world rejoices.

Transition is the word she used to mark the shift from laboring to die to dying.

And shouldn’t it be so? For isn’t death in Christ emergence from this mortal womb to hear, see, taste, breathe for the first time all things new? Temporal senses shaken awake, redeemed life finds its voice and joins the eternal song in communion with the saints. And all heaven rejoices. 

So we, like midwives, hold his hands, kiss his brow, whisper words, songs, hymns, prayers, and wait in this momentary weight of sorrow — all creation groaning with us — for another son to be revealed. 

Unseen watchers stand, hands outstretched to welcome realest life to Realest Real. And then the time (the day, hour, moment written) comes. 

Windows open to his soul; he sees! One last gasp of lesser air; he’s free!

Just like that, beloved, weary, mortal womb — like the tomb — now lies empty. His labor past, he passed (the test) into his rest in peace. 

Transition.

We will all be changed: mourning to dancing, weeping to laughing, sorrow to gladness, sadness to joy. Glory to glory to highest, fullest, truest glory. All things beautiful in His time.

In His time.

See you then, Dad.

* * *

My daddy went to Heaven at 3:00 in the afternoon on July 23. I watched him go. As long as I live, I will never forget the holy, aching beauty of that moment. About six years ago, he asked me to write his obituary when the time came. He said, “Just say, ‘He loved his family.'” I said a little bit more than that. If you’re interested, you can read it here.  





A Long Good-bye (Part Three)

1 05 2013

-2

April 22, 2013: I walk in the front door like I always do, computer in hand, expecting Mom to be asleep and planning to get some work done while Dad goes to the gym and the store. But he isn’t sitting at the kitchen table as usual.

I hear him call my name, follow the sound of his voice, and find them both sitting on the edge of their bed. “Mom heard you come in and wanted to see you,” he says.

She swallows a mouthful of Ensure with effort, then looks into my eyes and smiles. Her face is drawn and sallow, but her smile manages to light her large green eyes. “Hi,” she barely whispers.

“Hi, Mom. How are you today?”

“Okay, I guess.” Her voice is raspy and weak.

There’s a small plastic bowl on the bed along with a half dozen used tissues, and I know they’ve spent the past few minutes trying to clear the phlegm from her throat. Her hand is shaking, so Dad holds the glass of Ensure steady and offers her another sip, but she refuses. He hands me the glass and I take it along with the bowl of spit. When I return, she’s trying to say something but can’t find the words — a new development with her. The past couple of days she’s been saying random things and asking nonsensical questions.

She’s obviously frustrated. Dad kisses her on the head and says, “You’re a sweet girl, and I love you.” His touch and voice are so tender I want to cry, but that’s the way he has always been. With her, with his children. His heart is a safe home.

She whispers, “I love you, too.” Then she tries again to find the words she couldn’t find before, but all she manages is, “I can’t (long pause) determine (long pause) what . . .” Her voice trails off, and she brushes at imaginary lint or crumbs or something on her pants. He kisses her again and helps her lie down, and I ask her if she wants me to stay or leave the room to let her rest.

“Please stay.” Her eyes have already closed and her breathing is even. I sit at the end of the bed and watch her, study her, try to take her in,  and even though I see her every day, I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around this.

My mother is dying. She’s lying on her side in a loose fetal position, and was it really that long ago that my infant form curled much the same way inside her womb? Was it really that long ago this fragile woman was young and beautiful and full of life, her strong, healthy body swollen with mine? I imagine her in labor, awaking in the night to feed me, holding me when I cried and comforting me with soft songs. She influenced my life in a thousand big and little ways, day adding to day, and year to year, and here we are.

I sit at the end of the bed and watch her, and the prayers rise of themselves — that the God of the universe who created this woman for His glory would come. That He would fill the room and her thoughts with His presence. That light would shine and darkness would tremble and that the God who welcomes sinners would take her frail body into His strong arms and carry her the rest of the way Home. Oh, Jesus, will you carry her Home?

Something startles her awake and she sees me. Surprise becomes pleasure and she says, “Jeanne?”

“Yes.”

“Have you been sitting there all this time?”

“It hasn’t been very long. You asked me to stay and I like to be near you. I love you, Mom.”

“I love you, too.” She pauses and then says, “Do you have any pah . . .”

“Do I have any what?”

“Do you have any pah . . .”

I wait.

“Do you have any positives . . . for Christmas?”

I puzzle a bit, then say, “At Christmas I like to celebrate the birth of Jesus and spend time with the people I love.”

After another pause she says, “Well, do you have any ideas? For Christmas?”

No, I tell her. I haven’t been thinking about Christmas, because it’s still a long way off.

But I’m thinking about it now. Thinking about a silent night split wide by the cries of a woman in labor — about Almighty God coming to us as a helpless baby, entering this world the same way my mother did and I did and every other human being has. Coming to us on purpose to die in our place. I’m thinking about what it cost the holy God of heaven to offer us peace, and how we see and receive so little of all we’ve been given, distracted as we are with so many silly things.

And the song we sang in church yesterday — the one that wiped me out — it echoes in my thoughts again.

When we arrive at eternity’s shore, and death is just a memory, and tears are no more.
We’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring, Your bride will come together and we’ll sing,
You’re beautiful.

* * *

May 1, 2013: That’s as far as I got on April 22. Then I saved the draft, and family arrived from out of town, and a busy week culminated in a weekend of celebration, and then early Sunday morning? She went. Peacefully, in her sleep. And I will write out all the mercies of those last two weeks, because they are many. I will write them here soon, for you and for me, and I will remember them, because they magnify the One whose strong hand of love is always, always hidden in the shadows.

Friends, I thank you for your prayers. May I ask that, as often as you think of us, you continue? Especially for my Daddy.

Jesus, I thank you for my mother’s life. That every day ordained for her was written in Your Book before there was one of them. I thank you for the cross. And I thank you for hope, and for peace, and that every breath is grace.

Jesus, You’re good. So very good.

And so very, very beautiful.

* * *

For those who are interested,
you can read my mom’s obituary here.

Much love.

 





Who they are

10 09 2012

The coffee shop bustles with activity. Moms in work-out gear grabbing a latte for the road, business people conferring with colleagues or tapping away at their computers, and probably at least one writer, fingers poised over keyboard, awaiting caffeinated inspiration.

All the tables are taken, so we carry our coffee and scones to the counter by the window and perch on stools, a hodgepodge of humanity coming, going, talking, and laughing around us.

I’ve known her only a couple of months, but it doesn’t matter. We commune as sister to sister, soldier to soldier, our connection immediate and soul deep. She, too, has a story of beauty from brokenness, and she laughs with the freedom that comes from knowing nothing can separate her from God’s love. No stranger to pain, darkness, and hope-waiting-long, she lives in the tension of already-but-not-yet, confident in her assurance that all things must serve His purpose.

This confidence lights her smile with peace.

I drink deeply the river of life flowing through her and over me — swallow it right down to my bones, because the truth is, I’m tired. Tired, and thirstier than I realized.

Our conversation ranges wide, all its paths winding back to Truth, and I sense that these moments matter — that they won’t be lost but are etched in eternity. She shares her journey (she already knows mine), and as story begets story, I tell her about a time I glimpsed true greatness.

We’re both amazed by the higher ways of God’s upside-down kingdom, and then, without warning, it happens.

There may be a thousand reasons God wanted me right here, right now, celebrating His faithfulness with this friend. But what she tells me next rips a veil from my eyes, transforming this busy coffee shop into the house of God and the gate of heaven.

It’s the story of a mother and her son. And it’s so much more.

When Michael was born, the doctors told his mother, Angela, that he was missing a chromosome. They said he probably wouldn’t live more than a few months, and even if he lived longer, he would never walk. Never talk. Never live a normal life.

Michael did live. He’s going on his eighteenth birthday. And he not only walks, he dances with joyful abandon. But his condition causes complicated problems that aren’t easy to pinpoint or treat. He can’t talk, and even though he can use an iPad to communicate, Angela is often left guessing what to do for him. The past eighteen years have been spent in and out of medical facilities, and many nights she is awakened to come to his aid for one reason or another.

One night she was up yet again at 2:00 AM, massaging his feet, trying but failing to relieve his pain, and she wept for sheer exhaustion and frustration. And then God spoke.

Do you know what a privilege it is to serve Michael?

The question startled her. But that wasn’t all God said.

You have no idea who he is.

These words — this truth — it blazes with the sun’s brilliance, blinding me with reborn sight. This is it! The puzzle piece I’ve been groping for, the mystery I’ve been missing. I’m looking at my friend, but I might as well be looking straight into the eyes of Christ, because Jesus is speaking these words to me here, now, as surely as He spoke them to Angela in the dark night of her discouragement.

You have no idea who he is. Who she is. Your son with his brain injury. Your mother with her Alzheimer’s. Your heavy-laden father with his tender, generous, broken heart. You have no idea.

And yet, shouldn’t it have been obvious? How could I have missed it? Here I’ve been, purposeful parent to the one and dutiful daughter to the two, stoically taking up my cross, enduring as though Christ’s kingdom, the salvation of my loved ones, and everything good and holy depended on me.

You have no idea who they are.

Oh, yes. I’ve been obedient. And prayerful. And much of the time I’ve even remembered to cast myself on the Lord, leaning on His grace moment by moment. (Of course, I’ve also noticed myself doing and being these things — the self-righteous always do.) I’ve taken to heart that I’m called to be salt and light, but deep down I’ve wanted a bigger, more glamorous hill for my little city to shine on. I’ve imagined the beautiful things I could be doing for God if only I didn’t have these obligations, and I’ve comforted myself with the hope that He’s using these difficult days to sanctify and equip me for fancier, funner ministry — a ministry that makes better use of “my gifts.”

Ugh. Am I really that pathetic? My son. My mother. My father. They are the gift. And infinitely more.

Jesus never said, “Impress presidents, and you’ll impress Me.” He never said, “Win awards on earth, and you’ll win awards in Heaven.” But He did say, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for Me.”

You have no idea who they are. It’s time to wake up.

We’re still sitting in the coffee shop, perched on our stools amidst a rush of sights, smells, and sounds. But in the realer Real a ladder reaches from here all the way to heaven. I’ve been asleep in the middle of nowhere, beating my aching head against this stone, and now I’m stunned awake and find myself face to face with God.

I came here today to meet a friend, and Jesus showed up. Words can’t express the wonder of such a kind, undeserved, unexpected gift. But I know it doesn’t mean the challenges are over — that life from now on will be all music and roses. And that’s okay. Because He gave me exactly what I needed to enter these moments fully with gratitude and holy joy. No, I don’t have it all figured out, and I’m sure I’ll struggle and stumble again. But this one amazing, humbling thing I do have, and I pray I never forget.

I know who they are.

* * *

Giving thanks in community for (#576 – 601)

Mom
Dad
Jacob
friendship
encouragement
holy places everywhere
stories that help us remember
Peggy
Elaine
Lizzie
birthday flowers from George
Luke at the door with birthday surprises at 7:30 AM
a clean house
traveling mercies
conviction of sin
the promise of wisdom
provision
George’s voice over the phone
grace that covers even the oldest, deepest wounds
Sarah’s insight
Luke’s servant heart
a serendipitous meeting on the way to church
Naomi in my lap on the shuttle bus
worship with beloveds
a long chat with Grace (who wears her name so well)





I am my Beloved’s, and He is mine

12 03 2012

“Do you want to see the Valentine your mother made for me?” He smiles and slides it across the table.

The drawing grabs my attention first — my parents gazing at each other, ageless on the page — and I’m captivated. It’s a simple sketch, but it makes me think. Of what was and what is. And of what will be.

Then I read, each word increasing my delight.

It’s sweet and flirty, like a junior high girl might send to her crush, and the look she’s drawn on her own face captures something real. All my life it was there, this hint of wild — now subdued by a relentless fog.

Her pencil has found it again.

“I misspelled happiest,” she observes with slight annoyance, folding her hands, and turning her head to stare out the window.

But I’m in love with everything about this card. How she used his full name. The exclamation marks. The row of hearts in the middle, and then that one whimsical heart at the end. And I can’t stop staring at the picture.

Self-image is a fascinating thing — the way we see ourselves when there’s no mirror. The way we appear to ourselves in dreams. And I think most of us, when we speculate about such things, like to imagine we’ll one day stroll streets of gold in an eternal version of our prime. Air-brushed. With abs of steel.

No matter how healthy our lifestyle, time takes its toll on us all. This body sags and aches, and this once-sharp mind dims, but the day is coming when Life will conquer. Vigorous, triumphant, playful Life will break these mortal bonds, and what will we be then? That’s a glorious mystery.

What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.

. . . when the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

And why this swallowing up? Because our Valentine said, “Yes!” to His Father and purchased a bride with His blood. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross and defeated Death forever, and one day we will gaze into His eyes, ageless, whole, wildly in love with our Redeemer King, and what will we be then?

No mystery there. We’ll be the happyest girl in the world.

Giving thanks in community for (#411 – 424)

soaking rain
the word behind saying, “this is the way”
talk around the table
comfort in sorrow
grace to embrace the “no”
surprises
healing
chains breaking
vegetable soup
Theo sipping chocolate
hearts here opening to Jacob
making plans
above and beyond





TPWWWLGC

21 10 2011

I learn from them as I watch them follow, how there’s freedom in keeping a keen eye and willing heart, testing the Spirit’s wind and turning your ship full sail into Him. Because isn’t He the One who opens and closes doors? And how many times have I beat my head against my own desires while He patiently waited for me to see His abundant gifts lying wide open?

* * *

I’ve been quiet around here this week. If you’ve wondered about me, please know all is well. (And thanks for wondering!) I’m just busy with living, like so many of you, and thankful for constant reminders of God’s nearness and faithfulness. Thankful for what He teaches when I slow down and listen.

Like TPWWWLGC. I bet you’re wondering what that is (I mean besides a bunch of letters). It’s a philosophy for life and a timely gift to me from Luke and Sarah, and I wrote about it today at All the Church Ladies. Join me?

See you there.

Love,
Jeanne





Going Home

11 07 2011

They built the house when I was six years old. It’s a basic ranch style home, long and rectangular, with a wide circular driveway paved smooth for bicycles and roller skates. These rooms witnessed my life. Elaborate Barbie houses and “the hall game.” Writing and performing plays. Practicing dance and piano and guitar. Vinyl records and disco moves. School projects, a slim-line phone, and an orange beanbag chair.

I see my various selves in my old bedroom. I’m small and weak with fever, and Mom is perched at my bedside, cutting out paper doll clothes or coloring in a brand new color book. I’m in junior high, with friends sleeping over, and we’re giggling, whispering secrets, and wondering about make up and clothes and boys. I’m sixteen and crawling into bed after coming home from a date, still smiling because my sweet Daddy waited up for me, even though he insisted he really was watching TV.

I’m sixteen, and my True Love finds me, and I’m on my knees, growing wings.

“If these walls could speak . . .”

I wonder, does a house remember? Do a young girl’s prayers — the first and holiest ones — somehow remain, a faint aroma of grace?

I left for college at eighteen, then marriage at twenty-one, and the first baby came at twenty-three. I had my own home now, but this house, it was always the place I returned to. My life, my children’s lives, and now my grandchildren’s lives — a thousand snapshots of smiles framed by these same walls, and isn’t the frame what holds a thing together?

“You can never go home again.” So the saying goes, and perhaps it’s true. Certainly we can’t go back in time, become the little girl again. We can’t catch the same fireflies or whisper the same secrets. But the house, it’s still there, and my parents still in it. This house that expands and contracts and opens its arms to each new generation, lively once again with music and laughter and baby’s cry. With Luke and Sarah and sweet little Naomi, who sleeps in that same room where I first tasted Living Water — where I awoke and knelt long, my head bowed low, and the words, they came in songs to Him. Now she awakes and stretches her tiny arms and legs, and does she hear it? Do the echoes linger still?

“You can never go home again.” Perhaps not. But sometimes life’s twists and turns take you very close, and you find yourself sitting in the living room of a house on the same street. A house that you passed every day on your way to school. You rode by on your bicycle as a little girl and you drove by in your Volkswagen Bug as a teen, and again and again through the years, you and your children and your grandchildren, never once thinking you might one day live there.

But it’s come to this, and you tell the owners you’ll let them know. You bow low, open hands holding all things loosely, clinging only to Him. You ask, and there’s no mistaking the Voice that speaks. Peace pours in, and every argument is swept away in the flood.

So. In a few months, after almost twenty years in a community that has loved us and embraced us and carried us through the hardest days of our lives, we will be saying goodbye. Because, as difficult as it is to pull up these well nurtured roots, we can’t resist the loving purposes of our Always Good God. Might it now be my turn to sit beside Mom in her weakness and wait up with Dad? What a beautiful honor.

In a few months we’ll be moving to Dallas. We’ll be neighbors with my parents, our son, our daughter-in-law, and our granddaughter.

And we’ll be neighbors with my life history.

It’s true, in some ways, you can’t ever go home again. But these wings? They bend to the Spirit’s wind, and the only way to soar is to lean hard into the music and let go. And what if you land close to where you began?

Perhaps the first and holiest prayers meet you there.

I believe it. I already hear the echoes of grace.

* * *

Giving thanks in community for:

#165 Promises kept. (And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.)
#166 Prayer with George and the gift of unity
#167 Peace that passes understanding
#168 The joyful prospect of sharing life with beloveds
#169 God’s promise that not one word will fail of all that He has spoken
#170 Tears and grace from treasured friends
#171 A brother’s generosity
#172 A father’s joy and gratitude
#173 A mother’s life (Happy Birthday, Mom.)





Nine Squared

4 07 2011

We managed to stay away for eight days. But, I mean, look at that face?

So we’re back . . .

to soak up the sweetness

and to marvel over changes in only one week.

We’re here to celebrate her in all her tiny, wonderful newness.

And we’re here to celebrate another’s birth.
With good food and fine wine.

With spoken words of affirmation and appreciation.
And with cake!

Nine squared.
Eighty-one years.
And the more we tried to make it about him,
the more he expressed his gratitude for us.
A life lived loving,
providing,
teaching,
comforting,
encouraging.

A life lived grateful,
setting an example for all of us
to go forth and do likewise.

And the gift goes on.

* * *

Giving thanks in community for:

#156 Soft baby coos
#157 Tiny feet kicking to a Daddy’s love song
#158 A father’s example of gentleness passed down to generations
#159 Beautiful food savored slowly
#160 Intentional time around the table
#161 Unexpected tears in prayer
#162 The blending of familiar voices in song
#162 Dad expressing gratitude even for these difficult, tender, final things
#163 The power of words, spoken, written, believed
#164 Freedom, God given, government endorsed (Happy Birthday, America.)








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