Friday, May 7, 2021

Broken but Mending

 bro-ken

/ˈbrōken/

verb

1. past participle of break1.

Adjective

1. having been fractured or damaged; no longer in one piece or in working order.

 

Broken: A visceral word, but a fitting description. It is palpable. Evocative. Regarding people or hearts or dreams, it signifies sorrow. It denotes anguish.

 

It is a word that has characterized my heart for well over six months now. Six months have come and gone since our precious Jimmy Carroll breathed his last and was escorted home to Jesus.

 

Six months. A half-year. A partial trip around the sun.

It still seems impossible.

On any given day, it can feel like six minutes,

or it can feel like six years.

There is simply no rhyme or reason.

 

The ways in which I experience the passage of time remain altered. Like a distorted reflection given off by an arcade funhouse mirror, time moves and shifts, completely disconnected from reality, bearing little resemblance to what actually is.

 

Jimmy’s loss was (still is) excruciating.

 

But the life that preceded the loss? Well, that was bliss.

That will keep me for the rest of my days:

 

What we had,

what we built,

what we shared.

The safety of it,

the beauty of it,

the sanctity of it.

 

I visited Jimmy’s grave a few days ago, and as I was leaving, I noticed, for the first time, a marker I had never seen. It bore the following inscription, “Non Omnis Moriar.” When I got home, I researched the meaning, and the definition reminded me and comforted me.

 

It means:

“I shall not wholly die.”

How lovely, and how true!

Jimmy is more alive now than he has ever been.

That truth brings me joy.

His works will outlive him.

That truth brings me peace.

 

mem·o·ry


/ˈmem(ə)rē/


Noun

1. the faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information.

2. something remembered from the past; a recollection.

 

Memories:

Now equal parts bitter and sweet.

I cherish them. I relive them. I safeguard them.

I pore over photos, I examine videos, and I remember,

eminently thankful for a magnificent life

so thoroughly documented.


I celebrate all that happened,

while grieving what never will.

 

Jimmy was my love, my security, my constant. There are still moments in the mundane daily-ness of life, when I listen for his car in the garage, or his voice from the next room. These blessed flashes of forgetfulness leave me momentarily jubilant, then immediately crestfallen, when reality, once again, sets in.

 

But, alas, this is my life, now.

This is our life, now, Austin’s and mine.

The landscape is unrecognizable.

The void is immeasurable.

The future is daunting.

 

Regardless, we resolve to move forward, however falteringly, on stumbling, fragile feet of clay, comforted to know that “…if only the will to walk is really there, God is pleased, even with our stumbles.” CS Lewis

 

This is where the promise of hinds’ feet on high places becomes critical, as our Paraclete, the One Who walks alongside us, enables us to traverse even the perilous, rocky places, with ease, with less difficulty.

 

The One Who wore our humanity,

now walks with us in it—our Companion for the journey,

meticulously tracing our steps and plotting our paths.

Like a dad marking footprints in the snow for his children,

our Father leads the way, displaying for us

where to walk, and how to walk.

 

There will be no getting over it. I know that. There will only be learning to live with it. It is the only way I know for the grief to be redeemed and turned into beauty. So, we are learning, again, to live:

 

To live with loss. To live with memories. 

To live with heartbreak.

To live with purpose. To live with shattered dreams.

To live with hope. To live with disappointment. 

To live with pain.

To live without our earthly advocate, protector,

and anchor.

 

In just the past month, our air conditioning went out, Austin injured his back, and I fought through both COVID and chemo. These, and more, are all things Jimmy would have mitigated.

 

“…neither know we what to do:

but our eyes are upon You.” 


We look to Him and He meets our gaze.

Always. Without fail.

We never look to Him in vain.

 

We are alone, yet not alone, when all is said and done,

because our God is not a God of distance.

He is neither aloof, nor impersonal.

He is conspicuous and involved.

 

Grief and pain have made themselves known to us,

but when we lose our footing,

we are carried by none other

than the Ancient of Days, Himself,

and His track record is impeccable.

 

As our Guardian, He augments what is lacking.

He nurtures our strengths and mediates our weaknesses. His heart is tender, after all, to widows and the fatherless. The very thing we are lacking, He offers. The very thing we do not have, He extends to us.

 

Grief and grace collide.

 

So much devastation. So much uncertainty.

So much pain.

Countless ways to be broken,

but only one way to be mended.

Manifold needs, but only one solution:

Jesus.

 

Always and only, Jesus.

Our anchor,

our healer,

our mender,

our memory-keeper.


"There is no walking into the Kingdom of God. We can only be carried."

Jonathan Martin


Saturday, January 30, 2021

Grief, Pain, and Love

We will soon be marking four months since we lost
our Jimmy Carroll. It feels like four years, instead.
I live, currently, in suspended animation. 
I sleep, I wake, I eat—daily activities detached from feelings,
like a wind-up doll, going through the motions.

Life unfolds, but with no sign posts, no deadlines, no benchmarks.

There’s just...time. Time to fill. 
Time that stretches on. Time that drags. 
Time that creeps by so slowly that clocks and calendars
seem unnecessary.

Our home is permeated with Jimmy’s presence, 
but marked by his absence. It is a disorienting dichotomy.

I say that I lost him. I cannot bring myself to say that he d**d. 
I’m not sure why. I just know that I can’t. I don’t.

Perhaps it’s because things that are lost, can often be found,
as if there’s a subconscious glimmer of hope that he can be reclaimed, that he won’t be gone forever.

Or, perhaps, it’s because his loss is so monumental, so sweeping,
so all encompassing—that it so envelops everything—that no other word will do.

I have pondered why, but cannot identify, yet,
the reasoning for the word “loss,” I just know that it is
the only word I use. 

My days are uniformly colored by Jimmy’s loss, but they vary, widely, in how his loss manifests.
My feelings and emotions run the gamut.

Sometimes, memories make me weep, but, at other times,
they make me smile. 
Sometimes, pictures break my heart, but, at other times,
they soothe my soul. 

I am gratefully discovering, with each new day, that grief
and peace can, and do, coexist—that it is possible to be afraid
and brave at the same time. 

So, there is, within me now, a resolve, not to hide from the pain, but to lean into it, having learned that, “When you are sorrowful…you shall see, that in truth, you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” 
Khalil Gibran

To delight in another is to receive from the One Who is our ultimate delight.  We delighted in our Christ, and we delighted in
each other. Words fail—no vocabulary exists—that could ever adequately convey just how much. 

I said, a few years ago, while teaching, “We risk the possibility
of pain, for the privilege of love.” 

Pain is a byproduct of love. It just is. It is an unavoidable truth. 
The depth of my pain corresponds to the depth of my love.
Our love was an abyss, therefore, my pain is bottomless.

The pain can never overshadow, however, the privilege
that was mine to love Jimmy Carroll. 
Even if I had known, in the beginning, that I would lose him,
I wouldn’t have changed a thing. 
I would have signed up for it again and again, if it meant
I got to be his girl. 

It was a privilege, indeed.

The brevity of life, though easy to ignore, demands that we pay attention. It requires us to notice, to redeem the time, to not squander it, through carelessness, indifference, or ambivalence.

Jimmy’s life was heartbreakingly brief, but, although his time was short, I pray it will forever be marked, not by its duration, but by its content.

Our sweet Jimmy Carroll knew who he was, Whose he was,
and why he was here, and he didn’t waste a moment. 
He lived on mission, determined and undeterred,
even when difficulty entered our lives. 

Austin and I resolve to do the same. 
We have concluded that the best way to honor Jimmy, is to live
a Christ-like, other oriented, purposeful life, just as Jimmy did.

We will never move on. We don’t want to. We couldn’t if we tried.
But we will move forward. We will celebrate Jimmy’s life, advance his vision, and continue the legacy he began.  

Now, it is up to us. The journey is not over. It is only beginning. 
We can’t wait to share what’s next. 

“One life, wholly devoted to God, is of more value than one hundred simply awakened by His Spirit.” 
Oswald Chambers

That was our Jimmy Carroll. 
Now, may we go and do likewise.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

A Life Well Lived

I fell four weeks ago—into glass shelves. 
I lost my footing, and ended up on the floor,
bruised, bleeding, and surrounded by slivers and shards. 

I fell three months ago—into unimaginable loss. 
I lost my footing, and ended up on the floor, 
broken, grieving, and surrounded by sorrow and shock. 

That I am shattered is indisputable. 
That I will be whole is less certain. 

It is easy to stumble on unfamiliar terrain. 
The horizon shifts and surroundings morph
until nothing is recognizable. 

Grief lingers. 
It is sneaky. It persists. 
It sets up shop. 

It is acute and chronic, all at the same time. 
It is my constant companion.
I suspect it always will be. 

We lost our Jimmy Carroll. 
His loss is, quite simply, incomprehensible. 

During this Christmas season, 
there is disbelief that does not lessen. 

There is sadness, that does not abate,
but is mingled with joy. 
Joy that I got to belong to him. 
Joy that I got to be his girl. 
Joy that Austin had the best man
we have ever known, for a dad. 

We grieve, but we celebrate, too. 
We weep, but we also give thanks.  
Our heartache? Mitigated by remembering. 
Our bottomless grief? Ameliorated by thanksgiving.  
Thanksgiving for him, 
his heart, his life, his love. 

Jimmy was my first and only love. 
I pinch myself that I got to be his girl. 
I marvel that he chose me—that I got to be the one
to stand in his sunshine for a lifetime. 

He walked roadside beside me, always my protector. 
He was willing (happy, even)
to take the hit if it meant I would be safe. 

He opened doors for me, always the gentleman. 
He tucked me in each night. 
He held my hand through chemo,
and my hair back, when the chemo made me ill. 

He prayed over me and for me. 
He was my fairytale,
my dream come true, and the love of my life. 

He was my cheerleader, and my biggest fan. 
He made me believe there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do. 

He was my pastor and my spiritual hero. 
His character was unassailable
His walk with God, and his heart for the kingdom? 
Unparalleled. 

He never let me stagnate. 
He inspired me, always, to aspire for more. 
He led by example. 
I would have followed him anywhere. 

He valued loyalty. 
He loved fiercely. 
He made me laugh like no other. 
He was the perfect embodiment of fun and faithfulness. 
He delighted in me, and I in him. 

I cannot let it be lost, though, in his loss,
that he did not just die.

He lived! 

That can never be forgotten. 
His impact remains. 
His contributions endure. 
His death must never overshadow his life.   

His life left this world a better place,
and pointed people to a better place.
He lived, and his was an extraordinarily significant life—
a life that will outlive him,
a life that still matters, 
a life that will count for all eternity. 

He would have been devastated to leave us. 
That he never knew, brings comfort. 
That he is more alive than he has ever been, brings peace. 

We do not sorrow like those who have no hope. 
That is the promise. 
What we see is astonishingly little, 
compared to what actually IS.

This life is not all there is.
So, I rest my head upon the pillow of God’s sovereignty,
and trust, by faith, that I will see him again. 

We have tasted the bitterness of loss,
but we have also tasted, and seen, 
the goodness of God. 
For now, that has to be enough. 

If we cannot have him,
then may his loss at least be redeemed. 
That is the prayer. 

God is faithful to redeem what He allows. 
I have taught that for decades,
but I am only, now, just beginning to understand it. 
I wait, expectantly, to see how. 
I cannot imagine how He will do it,
I am only confident that He will

His pierced hands wipe my tears, and cup my face. 
The Lifter of my head meets my gaze and whispers peace,
and, for a moment, there is. 
For now, that is enough. 

On this very first Christmas without my Jimmy Carroll,
and for every day that will follow,
I honor him, and the One Who gave him to us. 
I will love them both, with all my heart,
until I draw my final breath, and see them face to face. 

It will be worth the wait.

“Resurrection means the worst thing is never the last thing.” 
Frederick Buechner

Monday, May 4, 2020

Choosing and Staying

I have been pondering for quite a while, now—pondering aplenty, actually, with so much time on my hands.

There’s no pondering at all regarding my illness. All the whos, whats, wheres, whens, or hows—the ifs, ands, or buts—the what ifs, or the what nows, no longer intrude, and have long since been put away.

Even now, we cannot pinpoint or unravel the purpose of any of it, but we remain convinced of God’s goodness, and we know, beyond doubting, that He is up to something.

We’re not sure what that might be, and we may never know, this side of Heaven, but God is bigger than what we do not know, and infinitely more wise.

So, I go back to the beginning. I ponder God’s pursuit of me, and my pursuit of Him. I ponder why a heart, so fickle, would be sought in the first place. I ponder how a heart, notoriously prone to wander, could, nevertheless, be captured.

And, yet, it was.

CS Lewis pondered as well, though much more eloquently than I. “…and because God's love is uncoercive and treasures our freedom - if above all He wants us to love Him, then we must be left free not to love Him—we are free to resist Him, deny Him, crucify Him finally, which we do again and again. This is our terrible freedom, which love refuses to overpower so that, in this, the greatest of all powers, God's power is, itself, powerless.”

Powerless” divine power. It sounds heretical.

After all, sovereigns command. They rule. They decree. They dictate.

They do not capitulate. They do not yield. They do not concede. They most certainly do not surrender. They are surrendered to.

The king grants the audience. He extends the scepter. He allows access. He chooses. He does not wait to be chosen.

In Jesus, however, we meet a different kind of King—a Sovereign, Whose reign must be agreed to. A Ruler, Whose reception is subject to His subjects. 

So…
He leaves it up to us—His Achilles heel.
Omnipotence with His hands tied.

Unbidden, memories come—indelible mental snapshots of a simpler time—specifically, a trip with Austin when he was in first grade.

We visited a butterfly sanctuary, and, even now, over twenty years later, I still remember the moment I took him by the hand and led him into wonder. We felt a bit like Dorothy must have felt as gray scale Kansas gave way to technicolor Munchkin Land.

We stepped into a dazzling display of color and motion as hundreds of butterflies fluttered, and shimmered, and danced. It was hard, at first, to focus on just one as we took them all in. There was such longing, though, and then palpable delight, when one gently landed on Austin’s hand.

In that moment, he was offered an up-close opportunity to see, for himself, the beauty of the one among the many.

Competitors clamor for our attention and affection. They’re the butterflies that fly, and swoop, and dart. They draw our attention away from the extraordinarily unmatched beauty of the One perched quietly, just waiting.

The One among the many—Who waits to be noticed, and then, chosen. The One among the many—Who never forces, never imposes, never insists.

He simply waits—no flamboyant display—no flashy spectacle, but one glimpse, and our attention is arrested. One glimpse, and we are stricken by His magnificence.

He leaves it up to us.  
So, we choose Him. 
Or we don’t.

I am also one among many—a sheep among a flock. Until I falter, or lose my way, and it is then that I am sought out. Jesus, the One among the many, then leaves the many for the one. Though ninety-nine remain, He searches for the one not present, the one lost.

He’s done it since the dawn of time. 

He knows what we may not. He knows that freedom doesn’t always free. Sometimes it imperils. Sometimes it entangles. Sometimes it leads straight into bondage. 

We, in search of something to dull the ache we cannot name and the emptiness we cannot fill, strike out on our own, lugging suitcases filled with our own ideas, thoughts, or theories about what is best for us.

We wander aimlessly,
always journeying,
never arriving. 
It is an exercise in futility.

Our solitary departure sets things in motion, though, and even when we find ourselves miles and months away, Love that never ceases and never abandons is hot on our trails. Jesus is a vigilant Shepherd, after all.

We live under His watch, and rescue has always been His aim. When we are far from home, tired in our bones, and weary in our hearts, He searches, He seeks, He entreats. 

And…
Whether it is through bondage,
or despite it, He rescues.

If we’ll let Him.

Every pursuit, every intervention, every sobering nudge to focus on Him is amazing grace, and He is no miser where His grace is concerned.

He is extravagant. 
Lavish. Generous.

His grace woos. His grace persists. His grace reminds…that while anyone can fill our need, only Jesus can fill our emptiness. His message is simple: You do one thing—You get everything. Choose Me, and you will find the life you lost in your wandering, in Me.

In the rubble of our choices, and these hollowed out places where our lives used to be, Jesus, our Shepherd King, offers hope, and the promise that things can be different—that our future doesn’t have to look like our past. This is not hope deferred, by the way. This is hope realized. This is a promise.

It’s a sacred surrender, you know.
The choosing and the staying.
We were made for the staying,
but that doesn’t mean we do.

We stray when we should stay, but each step that leads us away is matched by one that follows. The One among the many accompanies us to, and through, the wilderness, and beckons us home—back to the place we haven’t entirely forgotten, even in our wandering. 

We find ourselves homesick—an unfamiliar, but welcome feeling. The siren song of independence loses its effect. Autonomy loses its appeal. Clarity comes, and, we, finally awakened from our slumber, remember.  

Memories surface of the peace and joy proximity offers. Our wandering gives way to rest as we reclaim the benefits of guardianship. We bask in His presence, by His side, and rediscover real life that is worthy of the Name.

Real life—found there.
Only there.

So, we approach. We return.
We surrender our keeping,
once more, to a throne called Grace.

With each return, we learn. So, when escape calls our name, and we grow restless within the fold, we learn to stay—we learn to remain—where our best, most significant days are ultimately spent...

Among the One among the many.









Thursday, June 27, 2019

Words and Seasons

I have not written since I was diagnosed with cancer. August will mark two years since we got the news. In some ways, it seems a lifetime ago, and in others, it feels as fresh as if the call came yesterday. 
I wanted to. Write, I mean.

Writing requires words, though, and I lost them. Just one month into my first round of chemo, I discovered that “chemo brain” is a very real thing. Each attempt to write, resulted, only, in disappointment and frustration.

To no avail, I foraged for words. I played “Hide and Seek,” only backwards. I sought, and they hid. Blinking cursors and blank screens mocked me and left me wondering if I would ever, again, translate thoughts and feelings into words.

I love words. I always have. With just twenty-six letters, simply rearranged and shuffled, poetry, masterpieces, sagas, classics, manifestos, and fairytales, have been created and preserved for posterity.

Today, after a long hiatus, and still in the midst of a difficult, protracted season, I reclaim words, and it feels like coming home again. Twenty-six letters are the medium with which I create. I know nothing of art or sculpture, but words? Words, I know. They are, in a word, (pun intended) magical.

They always have been, for me. They transport, they teach, they heal, they inspire. They are the scaffolding upon which dreams are constructed, and seasons chronicled.

Seasons are defined, in part, as, “Divisions of the year marked by changes…” Those changes most often refer to transitions in weather that herald new seasons and register passing years. These are literal seasons, noted clearly on calendars, characterized by gradual beginnings and endings.  

Our season bears no such resemblance. Conversely, our season began suddenly. It arrived with no warning or foreseeable end in sight, and it continues, even now.

Oddly enough, we do not question why. We do, however, ask how long. We just do. The landscape shifts, fatigue sets in, and aftershocks chip away at our equilibrium.

We find it hard, sometimes, to stand, but at the precise moment we begin to topple, the One Who is “able to keep us from falling” steps in. The result is that what first left us reeling, now tethers us to our Christ. He is not the problem, He is the solution.

As people of God, we are not immune from difficulty, or the toll it takes. Acutely aware of our frailty, we realized, early on, that we had a choice to make: We could blame the only One Who offers us hope, or we could accept the affliction that drives us to Him. We chose the latter.

God rewarded that choice with Himself and has kept us on our feet. Over and over again, He lavishes us with His grace, and supplements our weakness with His strength.

He excavates the elusive joy obscured by adversity, and displays, anew, that there is no season, storm, or trial that exceeds His power.

That does not mean that this season has been easy. It has not. The difficulty, however, recedes each time we choose to claim God’s promises before the fear clutches. A life-changing reckoning with the love of God has been ours, and we are better for it.

God knows what we bruised reeds can take and what we cannot. He promises as much in His Word. Pondering the promise again, recently, Aesop came to mind. He paints with words, and a portrait emerges. 
“The little reed, bending to the force of the wind, soon stood upright again, when the storm had passed over.”

Our storm is not over. Our season stretches on. We are weary but intact, bent but unbroken, bruised but renewed. We learn, and forget, and learn again, that whatever God sends or permits in our lives, is ordained by Him for a reason. It is not arbitrary or without design.

While pain has the tendency to leave us myopic, perspective expands our vision and reminds us that the sum is greater than the part. Our small parts, like puzzle pieces, matter, and are magnified, only when offered for the benefit of the larger picture.

He is up to something that our finite minds cannot comprehend. His activity mystifies, but where His plans confound, His presence consoles.

When our dreams lay tattered at our feet, God is sufficient. He collects the threadbare, ragged remnants of the tapestry that was, and mends, repurposes, and stitches together a new tapestry that differs, significantly, but is no less lovely.

He exchanges our fatigue for strength and bestows upon us courage needed for the journey. He plots our path and orders our steps when the way grows dim and darkness closes in. He navigates us through unsteady terrain and unexpected detours. We may stumble, but we do not fall.  

We do not yet know if I will be healed, but we trust without the miracles for which we pray. Our uncertainties regarding what is, are eclipsed by assurances of what will be. Through all the yesterdays and tomorrows, one thing is sure: What God does not repair, He is faithful to redeem.Top of FormBottom of Form

So, we rest in the assurance of redemption, and submit to His sometimes painful will. We relinquish control of what was never ours to begin with, and entrust, to Him, our keeping. There is no greater repository.

We run to Him because we are welcomed, and we choose Him, because in the end, there is no other choice. It is as simple as that. In season and out, through few calendars or many, the love of God sustains, and His promises prevail.

The lowlands’ lingering veil of mist will eventually dissipate. The desert will give way to blooms, and doubt will give way to confidence. Without fear, we will freely relinquish to our Divine Choreographer, what is easy to perceive, but difficult to define.

At last, the day will come when our striving ceases, and our healing begins. Healing or not, adversity or not, deliverance or not, we celebrate God’s sovereignty, regardless.

The lessons that result from long seasons and endless storms, more than make up for the struggles. This road has not been easy, but it has been worth it. We are everything we are, because He is everything He is. In the end, it turns out, that is enough.