working out what life and call and prayer and silence are all about

Posts tagged ‘grief’

Choose Life

So about Ash Wednesday. . . It’s coming, and coming soon.

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And even though I’m a pastor and I spend months planning for the church’s observance, it always sneaks up on me. Personally, I mean. I am so wrapped up in helping others journey through Lent that I don’t have time to pause and consider how I want to experience the season. This year is no exception. In fact, it’s even more crazy than usual, because I’m without my incredible friend and former Administrative Assistant. (Miss you, Deb!) But somehow, the Spirit is speaking to me this year to get ready, to make plans, to actually live Lent.

I can’t do the self-flagellation, though. I’m not into asceticism and extreme fasting and making lists of all my sins (there’s not enough paper in the world for that list!) But the Old Testament reading from last Sunday struck a chord with me. In Deuteronomy 30, Moses speaks to the people about the covenant God has made with them, reminding them that God has chosen them and made them God’s people. And then Moses lays out the choice they have to make: they can either follow God’s commandments that lead to life, or follow another way and experience adversity and death. Verses 19-20 read, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him.” It’s not a transactional arrangement: if you do this, then God will do this to you. It’s a matter of consequences. God’s greatest desire is for us to experience abundant life, and God’s commandments lead us there. But when we choose selfish gain or acquiring power or accumulating wealth instead of the commandments, we will run into trouble at every turn. God wants us to choose life.

What in the world does this have to do with Ash Wednesday, you ask?

We begin this Lenten season being marked with ash and soot. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

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These words are jarring. We don’t want to remember that death is approaching. We don’t want to acknowledge that our lives will come to an end. We don’t want to live with a constant reminder of all the people we’ve lost, many of them way too soon. Ash Wednesday calls us to face reality, but we do not face it alone.

We willingly receive the mark of death on our forehead in the presence of the one who has faced death before us. Jesus the Christ, our brother, our savior, stands with us as we hear the ugly truth: “to dust you shall return.” But that is not the end of the story. Jesus also reaches out to us, offering the gift of abundant life through the power of his Resurrection. Jesus died so that we would not have to fear death, but could embrace the life we have been given. Like the Hebrews gathered with Moses, we can choose life.

This season of Lent, how will you choose life? Is there something you need to let go of, release, walk away from? Make this your Lenten discipline. Is there something new you can incorporate into your routine, a habit or a practice that will enrich your spiritual life? Make this your Lenten discipline. Whatever you choose, let it be life, abundant life, the life Jesus died to give us.

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There’s a Hole in the Middle of a Pretty Good Life. . .

David Wilcox wrote those lyrics years ago. I fell in love with his songs my freshman year of college. He sang about taking risks in life and letting go of love that wounds and feeling alone and finding yourself again, all of which resonated with me. But one of his songs I didn’t understand: it described the pain of a friend whose world had been shattered by grief. “There’s a hole in the middle of a pretty good life,” he sang, and at that point in my life, I just had to take his word for it. All of my family members were still alive and kicking, and even my cat was living a long and healthy life. I had not yet faced the darkness of loss.

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20 years of living later, those words have new meaning. The grief seems to be stacking up, with one loss not quite healed before another one comes along. I have lost mentors from school, faithful saints from my home church, friends from seminary, parishioners in my own congregation. All of these deaths I grieved and kept moving. And then my mom died. And my world stopped. And I understood those lyrics for the first time. “There’s a hole in the middle of a pretty good life.”

I do have a pretty good life. A joyous life, in fact – a blessed life. I have an amazing son who adores me. I have a job that enables me to a make a real difference in the world. I have a body that can move in ways that continue to surprise me. I am surrounded by friends and family, near and far, who love me. But there’s a grief-sized hole in the middle of my life. And I’m reminded of it every time I lose another friend, another colleague, another saint of God.

This past week I was honored to vest and process in the funeral of my friend and colleague Adrienne. She was a vibrant woman, a compassionate pastor, and an ambitious leader of the Church. She had a passion for campus ministry and for young people’s faith development that I admired. And she had an adventurous spirit that I shared. At one point we were making plans to cruise the Mediterranean as part of our Continuing Education requirement as pastors – learning more about Paul’s journeys should be fun, she thought! Losing Adrienne put some extra strain on that hole in the middle of my life.

Just 2 days after Adrienne’s funeral, I lost a dear man from my congregation. Bud was one of the first people I met when I moved to Flagstaff to be pastor at Living Christ Lutheran. He and his wife Susan helped us get settled in and offered their babysitting services for my then-3-year-old son. Bud loved to make jokes with Ethan and always pretended to get his colors mixed up so Ethan would have to correct him. “I’ll miss how funny he was to me,” Ethan told me this week. I’ll miss that too.

It’s Friday morning here in Flagstaff. For the last 2 years, I have spent my Friday mornings with Bud and Susan. His declining health meant that he was home-bound and couldn’t come to church. So every Friday, I brought the church to them. It was my job to remind them of God’s love and Christ’s promises, but it was always Bud who reminded me. No matter how he was feeling, no matter how he was declining, he always rallied for my visits. When I asked how he was doing, he was always “fine” and then he immediately turned the conversation to me, asking how I was, how Ethan was, how things were at the church. He always had a joke to make, a laugh to share, a good story to tell. And to the end, he was a man of patience, hope, and peace.

It’s Friday morning and I don’t know what to do with myself. That hole in the middle of my life is a little bit bigger because I won’t be seeing Bud’s sweet smile this morning. But I will remember it. And I’ll remember the lessons he taught me. God’s love is real. Christ’s promises are true. Peace is a choice. And hope will never disappoint.

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