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This is Our Vapor

Life isn’t solely tragic, I know this, hopefully you know this. When tragedy does happen it typically becomes everything. It demands urgency, commands that you be present to either run from it or face it. Sometimes we need to run just far enough to make sure we are safe, sometimes we stand and face it, and sometimes we move towards it.

As a chaplain, there are times when I am asked to move towards someone else’s tragedy because someone has trusted me to be able to, and I also have trusted myself to be able to.

Today a Turkish Muslim family lost a child at 23 weeks. If you know where I live in the south, you might be surprised to hear that there aren’t many Muslims here. There is one mosque here, probably the only one within a 2-hour radius. I sat with the couple, made phone calls, then accidentally saw the child, which was a new enough sight to me that it made it difficult to concentrate on the information I gave them regarding who I contacted and what numbers I found.

But writing this isn’t really about me, it’s about this couple and a grandmother who lost their child and were navigating deep sadness with the sentiment of “I guess this is life” (or “This is a part of life”). And sadly, that statement is true; nothing I could say would change that, so I did the best thing I could do after I left them. I cried and I prayed, and then later I cried, and I write and hope to pray again.

I, like you, have no desire for tragedy to be a part of life. I want to be able to reject it and say outright it is not necessary. But that does not keep it away.

I cannot fend off the reality of loss with a flaming sword. I cannot cure myself nor can they cure themselves of their sadness.

When tragedy comes, we are meant to mourn, and while mourning is not a facet of the Kingdom to come, that is coming, and is near, it is the reality of the in between and that reality is dreadfully painful.

Which is why that reality must also be a vapor.

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James 4:14 reads, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

Not only is the reality of tragedy a vapor but so are we. Except, we are the most beautiful vapor that could ever exist through the lens of God.

We were vapors worth sacrificing for.

We were bought through an eternal, tragic, act of romance, once for all time.

And through that sacrifice something fascinating happened to us.

We condensed because Jesus condescended.

We became one with the water of the Spirit, one with the river of living water. We vanish only to reappear unforgotten by the Father, as a bride for the Son, as a Temple for the Spirit, as ones the world is not worthy of.

I ran into the father of the child in the parking lot when I came back to the hospital 4 hours later, he had driven to the mosque to talk to the imam about the proper ritual for the child. They told him to take the child home, wash her, and that would suffice for a funeral.

It had been a very long time since the hospital had ever let a deceased child go directly home, it’s just not a cultural or religious practice for most people here. I could see the relief on the fathers face they told him that would be possible.

That relief was beautiful, you know, knowing he could take the deceased home to wash her,

Like a baptism,

Like this is a part of life.

Mary

It’s hard to imagine the heart failing of someone who loved me so well. 

Maybe she was finally convinced we’d be okay without her. Maybe her body was just finished; certainly not her mind. Maybe it was just time. 59775954_646730895794525_4785438645509160960_n

I think I’ve learned you can prepare to make an end of living, but not death, for the moment or moments between life and life. The middle space that grief takes up. You can plan logistics of funerals and finances and forgiveness, but you can’t take a pulse of grief and parcel out emotional energy or therapy sessions to navigate the middle piece of what loss will leave in its wake. Because of this we ritualize. We have ceremonies, and sift through possessions and pictures, some of us hoping the deceased will visit us.

And after the rituals we return to life and vocation hoping the deceased will visit us. And then we form more community, hopefully enlarge our families and churches, hoping the deceased will visit us. But Jesus doesn’t want the deceased to visit us because Jesus doesn’t want death. He wants living and living abundantly, and Jesus wants the living to gather and in time the formerly dead to be seen in light of the resurrection with a glorious newness. It’s my only real consolation.

Any other emotional appeasement is not a hope I’m interested in. Merely being at rest or ending suffering is not enough. Life gained in full in the glory of Christ as a Christian has become the bare minimum of my desire, but it is also the ultimate.  It’s what I wait for and allows me to mourn as one not without hope. Because that hope also has the power to end or comfort me in my mourning.

Now I turn to Mary, my grandmother:

You didn’t leave me, you stayed with me for a season.

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It’s hard to accept your gone when you remembered our visits and held me to my words. You kept track of the time like you knew it was short but looked forward in time like you’d live forever. It wasn’t a lie; it was you weaving the story I think you knew I wanted.

I was as proud as you were while wrapping your bingo nickels

I’ll cherish the smirk you gave me the last time I “stole” your cookie.

And even though your hand won’t hold back I’ll try to hold your heart. Lord Have mercy

You were too busy living, enjoying simplicity to worry about dying. Christ have mercy

You were showing me, I believe, that death is not something to worry about. Like Jesus, it is something we can be angry about and mourn, but it mustn’t be something that hinders living or the hope of resurrection. Death might be inevitable, but death is defeated, and I’m currently becoming okay with the fact that it was your turn to pass through it, into glory. Lord have mercy.

When I spoke with Gabe in February or March, of my visit to you in January, he felt I spoke of you like one should speak of their spouse. I wanted to you to meet her (I mean, I’d like to meet her, but I wanted you to meet her), not that I needed your approval, just so I could share you with her and her with you. I mourn that. I own that. I’m sorry for that. I’m not sure anything changes because of this, but my imagination placed you there at the celebration. If you have time, please come with the Lord. Invite friends. Christ have mercy

Thanks for all you’ve given me, it would be impossible to repay you or even out the scale of love. I think you would want it that way. You win gram, but we are probably close to even in Pokeno. Lord have mercy.

I thought you might live forever, and now you will. To Christ be the glory.

What’s God’s Endgame?

You may have heard about this movie coming out called Avengers: Endgame. It’s one of those low budget independent films, trying to win some film festival awards. I bought tickets to it for the first showing at 5 pm tomorrow. I’m pretty excited about it. You’re probably not going to see it or hear about it much, but I’m hoping to enjoy it.

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I don’t mean to spoil the previous movie Infinity War, but it basically ended with a whole bunch of characters ceasing to exist, and lest we think the concept or conclusion is unique, the world, or humanity or a day of reckoning is a fairly played out blockbuster movie trope.

Everyone is trying to save the world. Recently corporations who previously were less pretentious about wanting to make money off its consumers have found ways to leverage ads to toot their own horns about being heroes. And I know why they do it. Western culture buys into a desire to appear to be as good of people as possible whilst still satisfying self as our chief end.

51GqyevRtBL._SX360_BO1,204,203,200_We still market our perception of “goodness” with statements or rather visual expressions of “sex sells.” Now advertises are testing the waters of whether or not “service sells” which leads to a new end which I believe we’ll see play itself out more in the political arena in the statement suggestive of “salvation sells.”

I don’t think people will necessarily peddle the word salvation (in the Orthodox Christian paradoxical sense) but the hope of redeeming and righting of the wrongs of the other side/enemy through politics or human effort is the platform on which humanity is destroying each other.

But then there is God’s Endgame.

On His (Jesus’) shoulders rests a Kingdom that is not passing away. In this Kingdom is the Intercessor who is coming to reign.

Jesus’ Endgame started on the Cross declaring “It is finished,” paying off a seemingly infinite death with His blood. The end of His life leading to the His Resurrection marked the victory over death the grave and the principalities and powers of the age though they still seem to have a pretty significant foothold.

But to what end does this game continue. What are we or rather what is God waiting for. God is clearly patient, God has not destroyed this place, nor I believe God will.

Let me share with you a passage to chew on from Matthew 24:13-14:

But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Two marks of genuine faith are endurance and proclamation. Announcing goodness (Advertising) and Endurance (Quality Assurance). I likely should apologize comparing a life of faith to a Product but in part that is what we are. We are products, creations, children, seed of Heavenly Father because we were purchased through the blood of the Son.

I could write a long explanation through the rest of this blog, poetic, reflective, but God caught me dead in my tracks with this:

You are God’s Endgame.

Jesus reconciling humanity (you and I very much included) to God through Himself no matter how long it takes for us to accept, receive or walk in daily.

I was the joy set before Him and Christ is my exceedingly great reward.

It’s taking a lot longer than 3 hours on a Big Screen to play out, but it’s worth it if the End is my heart fully given over to the Alpha and Omega, Captain of our Faith, Avenger of Heaven, Perfecter of our Faith, Yahweh’s Son, Iron sharpening Iron Godman, child of the Marveling Mary, Lord of the Universe, Jesus Christ.

You, Jesus are the only One who saved the world

You, Jesus the only One to save me

I’ve been rescued by your Love

May my faith be held steady and be made ready

To endure until the End

*Don’t spoil the movie*

 

 

 

Wrestling with Blessing

I’ve often reflected how I tend to be doing the best when I’m writing the most. This is typically true of anyone when they are expressing themselves creatively. We usually are feeling our best when we are fruitful and multiplying, freely expressing our identity through our gifting’s as we believe those gifts to be blessings.

Rarely do we feel our best when we are being pruned (losing part of what we thought was ourselves) or refined  (having our edges or unclean parts exposed and burned away) or disciplined (being taught how to navigate away from wrong into the right)

As I’ve been reading through Genesis and coming up on 5 months in chaplaincy, I find myself still wrestling, perhaps still restless. But in the midst of wrestling with myself and God, I’m faced with my choice. And it’s not so much a choice for vocation or for status as much as choice for disposition. I must choose joy and happiness. Admittedly, that has been historically challenging for me.

I often pin myself under the weight of sadness and introspection and often find the confused muddy version of Jimmy or James or Jim, whichever name they are calling me nowadays, trying to hear what name God is calling me nowadays. Still beloved, I hope?

How did I become so fragile?

How did I become so stubborn?

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I ask myself as I’m coming up on a ford (see story of Jacob) and the Angel of the Lord has challenged me to fight awaiting to see if I will ask for a blessing. The Lord doesn’t punch or slap. God doesn’t seek the knockout blow for his children. But God does test endurance awaiting our appeal for mercy or victory or surrender.

Here’s the thing though: I’ve asked. I’ve asked for blessing, yelled for the cursing to go away, persisted for healing. I still feel my wounds and am tempted to inflict the worst ones on myself, and I can’t do it anymore. I can’t be my own affliction and expect to make it through, wrestling day in and day out hoping the blessing actually sticks. For those of us that are guilty of fighting with ourselves, there is a need to learn the rhythm of grace and self-compassion.

I have this assignment I earned myself: To write about my dreams, which is ironic because some of my friends recently told me they are making dream boards. When I think of the word dream, my gut reaction is anger, then sadness, then stuck.

I don’t know how to stop my nightmares, so how does anyone expect me to make my dreams come true?

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I’ve had so many dreams, believed so many promises, flooded pages with hopes lost:

lost the hopes, lost the pages, lost parts of myself, let go of the dreams.

 

But not God, God’s not lost in the wrestling. God is there in it, and God has overcome me, and I admittedly can do nothing without the Father.  Nor do I really want to.

I also want to dream even if it’s daunting. I want to serve Jesus even if the next step is un-seeable. I want to be able find romantic love even if  right now it’s latent. I want to be confident in Christ even if I capsize. I only want to wrestle with God if we both win. What I find in the love of God is: the dreams that come from the Lord are the ones that have staying power and are vivid. As a team we dream. I think God knew how much I’d like wrestling so God has incorporated it into my walk of faith. I find God won’t let go until He knows I am blessed and beloved.

 

Breakers of the Fall

Between faith in God and family and friends I hope you have found that those combined are more than enough to break your fall if you find yourself falling. I’m so thankful for family during the holiday, the embrace of my friends and a church that feels like home. They all offer me such a strong love.

I’m sad to be at an airport getting ready to go to a place I’ve called home twice this weekend. I found it strange slipping up by calling Charleston home, especially since it at times it feels a place I associate with discomfort.

But it is my mind.

It’s all in my head. It’s the combination of feeling unable to be self-forgetful while simultaneously forgetting who I am becoming.

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I confuse grieving the loss of the familiar by losing the one tangible living being I brought with me… me. And when you begin to grieve for yourself, you’re falling.

I fall out of touch with a realty that, yes, I am responsible for myself, but I also have entrusted ownership of myself to God.

And God most assuredly is here now with me in the airport as well as waiting to encounter me at my apartment in Charleston.

God becomes the breaker of my fall during feelings of loneliness.

For now I am thankful, thankful for a Thanksgiving that I enjoyed with my family, thankful I saw my Dad doing better, saw my grandma consistent in her awareness, so many fun moments with friends packed into 3 days, free milkshakes with burgers, laughing while playing Loaded Questions, riding on the back of a motorcycles before eating Mexican, hearing the testimonies of God’s activity in the Church community, and the heart connections of feeling heard and assured of God’s plan in the process.

I’m thankful Jesus broke all our falls, I’m thankful for the access of his love that can meet us anymore in a variety of forms including discipline, refining and gifts. But Jesus also came to break us off from the things that make us fall, to catch us but also to stop us in our stumbling and guide us in our wandering.

Hebrews 12:1-“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely and let us run with endurance that race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Thanksgrieving and Believing

The eventual end of grief is an eternal promise we look forward to. In the meantime, Jesus assured us that happiness is available to those who grieve because of a present promise for comfort.  For any comfort to come, there must be a hope. Sometimes that hope is cloudy.

Sometimes grief which would love to linger is lightly carried away by the wind of the Spirit. Sometimes, God places you in circumstances that no emotion you could feel is adequate.

This week I received two phone calls virtually simultaneously to respond to, circumstances completely opposite and unfamiliar to me. One was to the West Wing of the hospital to the Labor and Delivery unit, the other call to the East Wing, the Emergency Department. Both instances had to do with babies, one joyous, one tragic.

I responded to the situation I felt I was needed least first. A family was adopting a healthy baby girl from a woman who delivered the baby, and the birth mother requested I pray a blessing over the baby and the adopting parents. So, I prayed, had no parental advice to really offer and affirmed the sense of joy in the room, despite being unaware of any dynamics as to how this situation came about. I was happy to be a part of it, but lingering in my mind, was the other call I knew I would be responding to immediately following that moment:

A one-month year old without a pulse that would not make it.

For 3 hours I offered prayer and presence and became witness to parent’s and grandparent’s grief. I offered some of my own grief but mostly I observed, stood silent, waiting on God.

Together, we’re all waiting, not always in grief, but we are all waiting.

Waiting for Life

In 2 Samuel 12:15-16, there is a Scripture that is concerning: “After Nathan returned to his home, the Lord sent a deadly illness to the child of David and Uriah’s wife. David begged God to spare the child. He went without food and lay all night on the bare ground.”

The child doesn’t make it. After 7 days, the child dies. David mourns for 7 days then stops once the child dies because David is aware that the child will not return to him. God’s grace was enough to spare David’s life but was not extended to David’s child. It seems utterly cruel, doesn’t it?

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In Scripture, the prophet Nathan affirms that the child’s death is the result of David scorning the word of God. This theologically seems like a bad look. It would be much easier to explain the circumstances using the Devil as the scapegoat doling out punishment for David’s sin, but Scripture does not give us this luxury.

Instead, we get a God that seems willing to employ extraneous means to keep his people tender-hearted. And this, I feel, is a viable tactic of God. God will use grief and the worst of circumstances, perhaps circumstances God authors, to return humanity to the love of God.

I will by no means try to explain the why nor use this or any tragedy to try to convince us that these are demonstrations of love. Rather, they are circumstances that give us pause, cause us to reevaluate, to seek what’s preeminent, namely seek God, the Author.

There, at the end of our grief, is resurrection life and belief.

Wealthy Mercy

“But God is so rich in mercy…”

I believe you can tell how rich and deep someone’s faith is by how generous they are with mercy. I believe this because according to God’s sense of justice, people deserve harsh consequences for their wrongs, yet God is slow to deal judgment. In Ephesians 2:4, the Apostle Paul lays out what God’s rich mercy has meant for us. Destined for death as subjects of God’s wrath, we obtain a wealth of mercy, so we would experience the glory of relationship with God the Father.

Mercy pays a debt.

Mercy endures your wrong and the pain it caused, and instead of delegating the punishment we deserve to us, it says, “I’m withholding what you deserve in this moment because I desire to keep what we had prior to your wrong.”

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I also believe for me and for many, mercy is harder to understand than grace. We associate grace as a gift for the helpless. With grace we are given something we have not earned. With mercy we exercise supreme self-control to not give someone what they have earned. A person has earned my anger even my extrication, yet I choose to process my pain, surrender it to Jesus, and offer consistent love in return.

While mercy is a gift, it is not a given or a guarantee, but Jesus compels us to store up a treasure of mercy guarded by thick skin while maintaining tenderness of heart. Mercy while giving the appearance of being trampled on is displayed by the one who has not been conquered or consumed by someone else’s hurt. It requires a resolve of strength and transparency that is soaked in a peace that can only come from the Word and breath of God.

Mercy is costly.

And often we don’t know the price tag the person who delegates it has paid. And sometimes we take for granted how much it is worth when we fail to see the value in the one offering it. Humanity does this in abundance with the common mercy that God maintains in patience with a fallen world.

Mercy absorbs rejection.

Yet mercy also abhors rejection because to reject mercy is to choose suffering. I am presented with an option in relation to God the Father and the other. I choose to receive a freely given mercy or I choose to stew in the suffering of my own sin. This second option is not viable, it is not reliable.

Mercy is my only hope.

I don’t know if you can say mercy is your only hope, but I am willing to bet it is whether you are aware or not. My only view of survival let alone thriving or revival is through mercy. I need a mercy that triumphs over judgment because my pronouncement over my actions is to abandon self. But God so rich in mercy…

Mercy is free for the one willing to receive it

The only way to be liberal with mercy is for either God or you or someone else to pay the cost.

Who will you let pay that cost?

Quit Nice

I’m continuing with a theme of pulling back a curtain of pretension. Perhaps my recent posts have provided some insight into an unintentional social experiment that is now becoming more intentional. I’ve chosen to cut back significantly on being nice.web_logo_large

In part, this might be a reaction to the smiley, often pretentious culture that the south gets billed for. But also because niceness defined as agreeable, pleasant and satisfactory is not enough. If you swim in this territory, I find you relinquish identity, vulnerability and the ability to tell people “no” or let them go.

Kindness however which Scripture admonishes us towards is to be generous and considerate of the other but also for ourselves.

When was the last time you were generous or considerate to yourself in order to better serve another?

Sometimes being generous and mindful of your own being requires confronting or outright rejecting the behavior of someone else. I’m confident that Jesus did this and continues to do this with relationships. Reject destructive behavior in order to restore relationship. I bold-faced the important part in case you don’t like the rejection of the destructive behaviors piece.

I did not come up with this advice. I had to be told this by my friend Hannah. Hannah is awesome. She’s a straight-forward woman who has her Masters in Theology, watches pro-wrestling, likes the Yankees, Super-Heroes, Harry Potter, Disney, cats and dogs and doesn’t tolerate BS and will let you know if you are trying to feed it to her. She’s engaged and if I don’t go to her wedding she would murder me mentally.

I don’t want Hannah to do that, in part because I am mildly fearful of her but also because Hannah is both honest and cares. I wouldn’t call her nice honestly, she also  wouldn’t want to be called nice. But she does take ownership of what’s hers and recognizes misuse and selfishness.

She isn’t afraid to tell you to cut people out, which I have now had to do twice in the last month. She isn’t afraid to tell you to stop doing something and don’t do that again because when you do it you suck. Those things don’t feel nice but they might be right.

It’s something we are empowered to do without changing our internal identity. You can still be an extremely loving and loyal Jesus follower without being overly nice. In fact you do this better when you refuse to subject yourself to the unchecked mistreatment from another human, especially a Christian.

So quit, try honesty and raw kindness instead.

Feargiveness

Sorry for cursing in my last entry. I’m not much of a verbal curser. I probably curse 10 times a year. I had a swear jar at work when I worked in construction where I put a quarter in every time I cursed or every time someone thought they heard me curse. There were six quarters in it over the course of close to two years, two of those quarters because I accidentally said curse words in Portuguese. I don’t curse because I love words too much. I don’t want to waste them. When I do curse, I am confident God will forgive me and hope I don’t take forgiveness for granted.

With that said, let me tell you about the hell of a night I had.

Chaplaincy can be utterly terrifying. After working a normal 8-hour day of visiting patients and family, I responded to two calls that occupied my time from 6:45pm-midnight.dvinfernohomerclassicpoets_m

The first call, a patient was dying, 20-25 family members gathered in the ICU.  I prayed with the patient and most of the family before they removed his breathing tube, then after he passed away I prayed for the family. The two minutes I walked away from the room was when he died. I walked up moments after feeling goose bumps from the changed air of one less person present. Death is still surreal to me.

There was a part of me that wanted to be in the room when it happened, but someone dying also feels kind of like an intimate moment. Afterwards I stood around, got ice waters for family, tried to remain available and then 45 minutes later, I left.

I got a call from the switch board operators to visit another patient who was not dying but wanted to see a chaplain at the other hospital (the one I sleep at). I drove back, stopped at Taco Bell (where else? I had a coupon I had to use). And arrived on the patient’s floor at 10 pm.

And I walked into darkness. You’d think being in a situation where there is death is dark, but what’s darker than bodily death is walking into a room that smells of cigarette smoke body odor from someone who is somewhere between alcohol withdrawals and dehydration. main-qimg-d00c0f2057a768e32f242967ccfed9a8-c.jpg

He also took an hour and a half to tell me his life story in third person, which consisted of getting saved, going to prison, solitary confinement, being a bouncer for a strip club, getting married five times, having 7 sons from different wives, persistent substance abuse, witnessing a church bus driver molest a 9 year-old girl, paying for his son to have a failed threesome on his birthday, 18 consecutive seizures, renouncing Jesus and probably something else I missed. (He gave me permission to share his story, but part of me wishes I never heard it)

We prayed, he worshipped Jesus for 6 minutes or so while I sat and thought about how nice it would be to go to sleep in a world where shit like this didn’t exist (also I literally just wanted to go to sleep). Instead of sleeping I wrote about it at 1 am trying to find God in it.

Instead, or perhaps in showing Himself to me I have this Scripture from Psalm 130:3-4 making rounds in my head:

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
    O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    that you may be feared.

I’ll be honest, after hearing the guys story I kind of felt like this guy doesn’t deserve salvation. I then reflected on my own life and realized I also don’t deserve salvation.

But one terrifying attribute of God is the depth and length of forgiveness Jesus Christ offers us. Most of us aren’t even fully aware of the depths of our sin. For some us, the surface sins are enough to overwhelm us.

Forgiveness terrifies me because if God is real and is as holy and good as He says He is, the psalmist of #130 is right, if God kept a tally of how much mine and your actions suck, we wouldn’t be able to stand. If I kept a tally of how much the actions of some people I would like to call friends suck, I would cut them off completely.

Instead of fearing the implications of forgiveness, we are tempted become users. I let myself be so used by some people. But, so does God in ever greater quantity and in darker depths of quality. God ascribes purpose to the blood of his Son. That costly blood cleanses our guilt, our conscience only for us to likely use again, to accidentally attempt to re-crucify.

Okay maybe you don’t, but I do. And yet I have tried to make it my job to minister forgiveness to people in the midst of their filthy, shit-stained, sulfur-scented dump heap of a life as they drain oxygen from this fallen world.

Yet in that darkness, in that pit Jesus promises to reach in and love us with a light that is simultaneously as bright as the day and as subtle as the flicker of a single firefly in a field at night.

During the minutes in which this patient of mine uttered the words, “Thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus, thank you for your presence again,” on repeat; I sat there tired, numb, wondering what I am also most afraid of.

On Loneliness, Loss, and Lasting Love

This is it folks, the blog post that will break the internet. If  you couldn’t tell by the title I’m ambitiously going to person-splain the meaning of life.

But before I get into it and switch gears, allow me to set the stage of the state I am in while I’m writing. I’m eating candy heart grapes and gluten-free pretzels while drinking Arizona Iced Green Tea from a protein shake bottle. I also took the day off today because the hospital offered it to me after working a 24-hour shift on Friday, and I highly considered not taking it, but I did. I took it not because I was tired or needed it, rather I took it because I read a few pages from a book titled Images of Pastoral Care, from a chapter written by Henry Nouwen regarding personal loneliness and the minister.

And to explain a little more, I took it because I believe the greater challenge for me today is not ministering to patients in a hospital, some of whom could be dying. Rather, my greater challenge is how Nouwen puts it “finding the wound of loneliness to be an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding.”

But that’s enough from the guy who has given pastoral ministers one of the clearest images of caring for others spiritual health in the last 40 years. If you want to hear from him I’ll loan you the book.

So let me ask you one question, then I’ll write a little, then I’ll go pay my parking ticket, visit the library, and write an assignment, and then maybe make some time for self-understanding.

Have you ever found the awareness of loneliness or loss to be a source of beauty?

If yes, well don’t read the rest and just write me immediately or better yet call me or better yet come to Charleston and agree to sit and talk with me for at least several hours about this topic and nothing else. I’ll buy you a moderately priced meal.

How can loneliness be beautiful? 

To start, loneliness can only begin to be beautiful with the assurance that it is temporary. If we feel our isolation will never end, all we will see is despair and be paralyzed by fear. Reminding the feeling that it is fleeting even if it seems final, is essential.

What also helps but is not a solution is the reminder that there are worse things than feeling lonely. Feeling incessantly annoyed or tortured is probably worse. But what’s actually worse than being lonely is self-loathing. There is  perhaps nothing worse than not liking yourself, which is why if you combine this with loneliness, its combustible.

I have a theory that people who genuinely like most things about themselves have little problem being alone.

Why is that?

Because they know what they like and feel absolutely no shame embracing that which they enjoy. Sure this could turn into complete selfishness, but there is something admirable about someone is completely secure in their delights.

Combine liking your self with self-awareness, you combine to make a refreshing human being. You’re like a classic Coke or Sprite, your like a refreshing Iced Tea, your like a warm (insert favorite latte), you’re the type of person that its okay to walk around in your underwear in front of. You won’t be creeped out or do anything creepy; you’re content to breastfeed in public without judging the people who might be judging you. You’re (this stopped being helpful 2 sentences ago) contented.

In other words, your happiness is not dependent on others but you allow it to be heightened and appropriately saddened given the person and circumstance. You’re soul is malleable rather than easily broken.

So you can use loneliness as a method of further self-discovery. This is the type of person I must become, and I must become it quickly and joyously and love God and others all the more for the opportunity.

But, what of loss?

How can loss be beautiful? 

Get your friggin’ softest tissues ready.

Anything you lose sucks to varying degrees. (Except excess weight, I guess). Especially when you lose something you think you need, keys, phone, family, kids. Like it sucks to misplace those things for five minutes but the loss I’m talking about is the kind of loss that implies permanence.

Loss sucks so much, I got to this part of the blog, and I don’t even want to write about it and part of the reason for me writing is to write about it. That’s how much I try to avoid it; I even am trying to avoid writing about it. (Snyder’s of Hanover gluten-free pretzels are great by the way; I wish they would pay me to say that).

Yet loss is inevitable. And worst of all, it usually if not always comes despite our intent. I won’t go so far to say that all loss is unintended because that is not the nature of what I’m trying to convince you and myself of.

If loss is inevitable and loss is painful and it’s something we, I included, try to avoid how exactly do we beautify it? Well, like loneliness, the effects of loss are temporal (what I mean is you can’t permanently lose the same thing twice) yet the love of that which was lost is enduring.

Love has this enduring quality and while you cannot change or really replace that which was lost, whether it be a parent, a sibling, a child, a spouse, a potential spouse, a friend, a pet, a vocation that gave you purpose, love need not die because of loss.

The loss of any one of those things may yield unbearable weight or heartbreak and most likely will. That heartbreak is real and it stings. We may yearn that we were lost in the stead of whom we lost. And the temptation becomes losing ourselves, to lose our identity in that which we lost. To become the person that our broken heart makes us vulnerable in believing: that we are irreparable, irreconcilable, impossible or unworthy to reconstruct. And the lie of loss is not the same as the loss itself or the love of the loss.

The lie of loss tries to tell you all is lost, but all is not lost. Even if in the moment, or in the season, or in the seeming lifetime it feels like all is lost, all is not lost. You are not lost if you are reading this. I mean in the metaphorical cosmic, what is the purpose of my existence, schema you might be lost, but that too is temporal. Our potential for being found is far greater than our propensity to wander away.

The love of the loss is our potential for gain.

How is love allowed to last?

See the divine nature of love is recognizable by its endurance. It’s recognizable by the lengths it pushes us to, and by the length and depth it propels others into. Love has this amazing potential to infuse tangible, powerful hope into the darkest of situations. The demonstration and resource of love provided to us by Jesus gives new strength, new life, and it need not end. Love doesn’t have a salary cap.

But it also has the attribute of self-forgetfulness that gives us additional strength to recognize our losses and loneliness as unique, yet equitable when met with love. It acts as currency to others in the midst of loss and the feeling of loneliness.

38710813_440696929773474_7108082828050432000_nBut the only way we can even begin to be a dispensary of this kind of love is to lean into the divine love of God, as the well we drink from. We drink as much as, even more than we might think we need throughout the day so our loss and loneliness won’t dehydrate us, leaving us so poor and empty that we lose sight of beauty and self-understanding.

The goal of lasting love in spite of loss and loneliness is not to erase existence; it is to thrive in spite of the suffering that comes with existing. It is so that if we lose a parent and yearn for that intimacy, we adopt a widow or widower; it’s if we have lost a sibling, we befriend a lonely stranger who yearns for loyalty; it’s if we lose a child, we find strength to be able to lavish love on one’s not lost, providing hospitality and family to the orphan. It’s if we lose a spouse and suffer heartbreak, we don’t crumble so far inwards that we close ourselves off or run from the viable love of others around us.

Sometimes allowing ourselves to be loved is the only salve that will heal us in time. I don’t think this blog will change the internet, but I hope it provides us with hope to give and receive divine love as our defense against loss and loneliness in a lasting way.