Saturday, April 30, 2011

How chaos can order your life:

“Things don’t matter. Pictures don’t matter. I have my husband and my daughter and my Momma. That’s all that matters.”

She just stood there stunned, not knowing where to begin. The tornado had ripped her home apart and nearly taken the lives of the three that were there.

We had arrived to help them salvage what they could of their belongings and discovered that they didn’t have renters insurance. That meant that whatever we picked up was what they had to start over with. It’s hard to imagine (although I had tried before we arrived) what a monumental task it would be to pick through piles of a twisted broken house to try and find one little thing that might have survived. A ceramic jar here, a bed sheet there, a stuffed animal hanging from a tree limb; that was all we found at first. No one really had a plan. How could they? Just look for anything that is salvageable. For me it was: try and find something precious: a picture, a cherished trinket… something.

Finally after a few hours of finding just a few items that covered the bottom of a rubber maid tub, a plan began to surface: clear a path through the rubble, pick through a pile (lumber this way, scrap metal that way), throw away what is clearly garbage and box the rest so the family can sort through it when they are finally able to think. Our plan was to get the salvageable items centralized so we could cover it with a tarp before it rained again.

The woman couldn’t offer direction at all. She said all she did was cry when she went up to the house site. She sat on the tailgate of a friend’s truck and told her tale to her neighbors and family, probably a thousand times over. She needed to talk. I think maybe it’s easier for someone unattached to pick through the rubble. It did not devastate me to throw away a busted up fisher price toy. But what would go through her mind if she picked that up. Would she wonder if the baby had been there, would she have survived?

What do we do when storms rip through our lives? How do we pick up the pieces and keep moving? Right now this woman is surrounded by friends and family, but what about a month from now when all has settled down and she only has a few card board boxes full of her things to start over with?

All the family and friends could do was thank us and all I could say was: this is what I would want. If I had lost my home and my belongings, I would want people to come and help me salvage what I could. I have had other storms come through my life and it takes so long to pick through the rubble.

Where do you begin?

When storms rip through your peace of mind… when people have taken their last breath and their earthly shell lies under a mound of earth… when marriages dissolve with a few words and blots of ink on paper… when the one you vowed to cherish forever lies in another’s bed… when disease cuts deep and words cut deeper… where do you begin?

No one really has a plan at first. How can they? We just look for something salvageable. We grasp for something to hold onto… a child, a friend, a pastor…

How do you clear a path through the rubble of your life? How do you find the strength to move on? How do you not simply stand there in the rain beating your fists against heaven? How do we continue to believe that God is good when what we see being served up to us is unpalatable?

I don’t know what this woman’s life was like before the twister twisted her home apart. I don’t know what her priorities were but I know me. I know it is so easy to get my own priorities out of whack. I run here and there trying to get the laundry done and the bills paid and “pick up your toys” and “don’t leave that in the living room.” I seek to make order out of my life and I forget what really matters. I mow over the hearts in my home, trying to order my home. I never think that a storm could come and spread my belongings for miles and I would all of the sudden be ORDERED. “Stuff doesn’t matter. People matter.”

In the eye of the storm there seemed to be the MOST chaos and yet that is where the most ORDER was found. Her priorities became suddenly clear. When God rips all the clutter out of our hands a spreads it for miles, we look to see what is left and maybe, just maybe we can see what is important.

Then we can begin to slowly pick through the rest, throw away what is clearly garbage, and try and salvage what we now see is important. I think when storms have come our way, we NEED to have others to help us sort through the rubble. I believe those who have also endured their own personal storms offer the best wisdom. I don’t want someone who has never suffered to tell me how to recover from searing grief. Not that others cannot help. They can… they can sit on the tailgate and JUST listen. That is so very important.

It is important to let people in. There are those who would not receive any help and sometimes we are just like that. When help comes, don’t close the door on it. Let those who have endured storms help guide you. There is wisdom to be found there.

Picking through the rubble of your life will be a slow process. I have learned it’s best not to rush it. I have also learned that you can’t junk all the things in your past. It is tempting to believe that all is lost when taking in the whole scene but no matter how big the storm is, there is always something to salvage, even if it is simply that you are still living and breathing and able to keep going.

Centralize what you have left and preserve it, before the rains come again. They will come, I believe that God is moving us toward himself with the rain. Whether we bless or curse God, we press toward him during trials.

As someone who has endured trials, I see God using the rain to press me toward him. He uses chaos to order me and I know I have been fired and can see God’s purpose for the storms.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hidden Sorrow

You would think this time of year would be lifting this winter fog off my mind. Everything is greening, everything is warming, life is emerging everywhere. My bulbs and wild flowers are faithful to send up jade leaves, slowly unfurling.

There will be flowers.

My flowers come in seasons. First the Daffodils, then Primrose (we call them “ I love you” flowers- a cherished memory of courtship), quickly the Irises will don purple bonnets, and lastly the Daylillies and Canalillies will explode the yard with orange and yellow.

And yet with all this promise of visual food for my soul, there is a fog that lies heavy on my heart. It is strange that my grief consumes me even when I am not conscious of it. I wake up in the morning wondering: what is wrong with me? Am I just overwhelmed by the clutter that marks my calendar… the constant “hither and yon” of children and church and just ordinary responsibilities? Is it that undone task that is nagging at the back of my brain? Why can’t I button up just one simple thing in my life? Why can’t I complete something? I want to line all my accomplishments in a row and prove to the world or just prove to myself that I have finished SOMETHING.

As usual, I want to be more than the Special Chicken that I am.

I look again at the calendar. I know why I am foggy. The answer probably lies on April 8th.

I don’t know exactly what time she died. I know it was after midnight on a Tuesday. It’s funny how: not knowing the exact date has troubled me. I know it doesn’t really matter but it has pestered me a little. I wonder if she lay there unconscious for hours as her breathing slowed and death drew near. I wonder how long the window of salvation stood open as she lay there un-rescued.

Salvation… that word nags at me too. I had saved my mother from death many a time. But I am not the one who saves souls, am I? I could save her from tasting the grave for a time but I could not save her from standing at the judgment seat. We all stand before the Lord someday.

They call us survivors. When they write out the obituary, they list the immediate (and sometimes the extended) family. The person is survived by… For years I felt like I was just trying to survive. I am finally in a place where I feel like I can actually live. It doesn’t keep me from wishing that she could have found a good reason to live. I still battle guilt that floods in for a moment and I pray to my God to swallow up my grief. He has swallowed up a mighty river before.

I met a woman once that called herself a survivor of suicide and she noted the difference between this kind of death and natural or even accidental death. I think that the difference is the human factor. It was not God’s decision to take. The person made the decision. Then there is the “if it was in human hands, then why couldn’t I have prevented it” factor.

After that, I met two more women who had lost their own mothers to suicide in the same year I lost mine. I wanted to reach out and comfort them. I wanted to clearly state the answers the Lord had shown me, and yet my grief still plagues me. It is not a paralyzing grief that shuts me down and incapacitates me (most days) but a hum in the back of my mind that seeks to distract me or make me seek distraction. I want to flip on the TV or really loud music that will drown out doubt and fear and uncertainty.

In the quiet, the tears slip out. I see my departed loved one in the soft notes on the piano… my sweet boy reflects his grandmother in musical genius. I knew this before she died. He carries on her song.

Within the silence I feel my grief loud and yet in facing it, I find a peace that surpasses understanding. Within the deafening sorrow, a light shines. I know this is not a worldly venture. It is a holy quest. I am not one who is ignorant of Holy Pilgrimage and so I press on.

Maybe I am trail blazing and other survivors of suicide will be encouraged to blaze their own trails through the valley of grief. Maybe this is just another Refining Fire. Either way, I am awed at the hand of The Creator on my life.

As the second anniversary of my mother’s death draws near, I feel another link in my chains of flesh broken, another layer is cut off my uncircumcised heart…