I tend to avoid other people’s autobiographical posts. Sometimes it can seem self indulgent or like a form of auto-therapy. Nevertheless, I seem to keep writing them…
During the last six months of my life, I have been in a season of slow grief. It’s a refining time and one I’ve not enjoyed very much. It might be a mid-life crisis but I can’t afford a Porsche. Something deeper is happening. I have sought counsel. Prayer has been a constant practice. I have shared my soul with some dear friends but nothing can change the fact that I’m going through the process of grief. And today, I wanted to write in order to connect with those who might be in the same place.
Grief is not new to me. I experienced it as a boy when our landlord died. As a few more elderly people I loved passed, I began to see it more and more. And then, after my brother Matt was killed in 1985, I endured it first hand in a severe way. Since that time I’ve grieved all kinds of things. You have too. I don’t mean to be maudlin about how we experience sorrow. But this season is different for me. It is a season of slow grief. And it has snuck up on me. It has affected me through at least three areas:
The primary way has been the slow degeneration of my Mom due to her Alzheimer’s. Our family is not unique in this sorrow by any means. And everyone, if they live long enough, has to deal with aging parents. But those are facts and this is about my Mom. My memories of her wisdom and intelligence still amaze me. One time, in order to chastise me for smoking, she sat down by me on the couch and said, “I’m going to the store, do you need anything?” I replied with a negative cro-magnon grunt. She continued, “Do you need me to pick up some more Marlboros? I noticed the pack in your truck is almost empty.” She then walked out leaving me speechless and totally embarrassed. She was so smart! My recollections of her include her impressive office at the hospital, her clean kitchen, her work ethic, and her volunteering at church for almost anything. All of you who know her remember that she had an extraordinary cultural bandwidth. She could work with a crowd of farmers, a ladies’ tea or immigrant women who needed to find a way to immunize their children. She was not perfect, but I am now dealing with a real sadness for her condition and a weird sense of guilt for being so far away, for so long.
The second thing I’ve been grieving has been the health of my wife and daughter. Watching the endless doctor visits has played a weird game with my mind. On one hand, I’m grateful we have great doctors and it’s not nearly as difficult as things that other people face. For example, my sweet niece Hannah has gone through two rounds of cancer and our family has prayed and prayed for her (and their fam) during these last years. I know that Shannon (systemic lupus) and Kate (vasculitis PAN) are not in that same severe journey. Hannah’s processes are far more difficult than our family’s. Yet, on the other hand, the journey of seeing my girls have such vast changes in their lives has developed a grief in me that is hard to describe. It is a dual grief of missing Shannon’s health and grieving the potential future of Kate. God has been so good to us considering the suffering of other people. I can’t deny that nor would I ever want to. Gratefulness pervades my heart about the kind of health-care and provision God has given us for them both. Yet an underlying sadness is there, at the back of my room of my heart that has lost something.
Lastly, our transition to Texas has had it’s own breed of grief. It has manifested in two parts: The first was leaving work and people we loved / the second was arriving somewhere new. All four of us had to leave friendships that had become like family. As we had no immediate family in Lincoln, our friends had to play the role of family for us and for our kids. In particular, Shannon and I both had jobs that we believed to be from God. We worked hard to be competent at those jobs and found them fulfilling. Leaving those was difficult as well. The second part was coming to a new place, with a different culture at a weird time in life. Garrett and Kate were both convinced that God was bringing us to Texas and have done a great job working through the process. And, we are blessed at how wonderful our new church leadership has been. They have helped us and loved us in wonderful, godly ways. Regardless, the leaving of our friends-like-family and the cultural punch-in-the-face that comes from being new have caused another kind of hurt. And watching my kids (as adolescents) suffer through this was harder than I anticipated.
Ok, enough of that…I’m making myself sick. Sheesh. You get the picture—no main tragedy; just a slow grief. But even in this season God continues to teach me.
I believe that feelings are usually not accurate indicators of truth. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane should teach us that at the very least. Sacrifice is a normal part of the way that Christ-followers deal with the demands of Lordship. Sorrow is par for the course for all of humanity. But for me, the season of slow grieving is a new phenomenon and it has been a different challenge. And, like all things broken, God has been turning my grief into good. In particular he has given me three things that I need very much.
The first is a deeper humility. No one I know enjoys the process of growing humble because it involves humiliation. But my inability to effect any kind of change in any of the three areas of grief has dropped me to a deeper reliance on God and on the church than I’ve had in a long time. The fact that our life is a vapor and like the short season when grass grows has never been more apparent. Like many an old-geezer, I marvel at how time accelerates and trends repeat themselves. This kind of humility has kept me from the arrogant passion of younger days and has developed a stronger belief in the body of Christ being mature and faithful. It is a desire to be wise rather than clever.
Another gift that God has given through this grief is more tenderness in my heart. The sorrow of poverty, the sadness of injustice and the deep wounds that infect our nation and our world are less “issues-to-deal-with” and more apparent to my conscience. Resources for “dealing” with these problems have not increased for me but the need to address them in love is growing.
The last one is a growing sense of God’s presence and provision. In my Bible and in my counsel he keeps using the word “wait.” I’ve kinda grown to expect it and hate it all at the same time (when I’m most honest). My need to tangibly trust God has grown. The rhythms of surrender that I have practiced over the years has become a life-line for me and His response to me has increased as well. When he says “wait” I know that he brought us here according to his good purpose. The church here in TX has been another of God’s instruments to remind me that I am still in his hands. It can sometimes be hard to see through the hazy conditions of grieving but his presence and provision is enough to remind me that he sees me. Recently I’ve been privileged to be part of the launch team for Eric Metaxas’ new book: Miracles . God has used that to remind me that he is cooking up a real doozy. I can’t wait to see the finished product.
People innately seem to have a relentless urge to pursue happiness. When it fails we tend to grieve. I want to have a relentless desire to pursue God: I want him to be my “one thing.” He is my portion. He is my prize and he is the antidote to my patient grieving. When other people grieve, try your best to avoid giving “encouragement” disguised as teaching. In my case, I have a long track record of pastoral work. Answers aren’t my problem. What I need now is prayer—and I’ll take it. Jesus will indeed heal Mom…and my family… and me. I’m thankful to have a great family, great doctors, great work experiences and a great church! Hope is on the horizon. The presence of God will be made manifest to us all—soon and forever.
 I will soon do a review of this book. Spoiler: it’s fantastic.