Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Of Cemeteries, Selfies and Restored Barns

 


On the occasion of my daughter’s wedding in June 2020, I visited my husband’s grave. A strange place to take a selfie, perhaps – but that’s what I did.

After placing my mother-of-the-bride sunflowers on Roger’s stone, I took a selfie.

I wanted to preserve the moment, to mark yet another grief-point of Roger’s gaping impossible absence: the wedding where he – not I – should have walked her down the aisle.

The photo is my profile picture on Facebook.

The response has been more than I’d expected, a generous cluster of comments such as “you look great” and “you look fresh as springtime”.

I’d taken the photo to literally make sure I was still in my physical body, the day had been so surreal without him there. I was shadow inside a circle of Nothingness; sorrow inside layers of regret.

It had been the best day and the worst day. 


My carefully applied makeup had been cried into hot rivulets of smeared mascara. A layer of sunburn tinged my skin. My hair, all done up for the wedding, was now mashed down by my favorite sun visor.

I felt a million miles away from Beautiful.

In that moment I was bereft, lonely, a little bit mad. No, a lot mad.

Angry because another Big Life Event had come and gone. Without him.

Without us.

Since that warm June day in a cemetery in Chandlers Valley, Pennsylvania, there have been more Life Events: our second daughter married.

A sweet baby girl arrived, christening me a grandma for the very first time.

I’ve retired.

Moved to a new place. Again.

Published a new book. Working on another.

Life Events. Big Days.

Often I wonder what it might have looked like, to grow old with this man. To grow into a season of “older love” with my husband. We’d experienced the roller coaster of new love, the solemn and joyful entry into a marriage covenant; the happy chaos of parenting; the chasing down of careers, of dreams, possibilities and future hopes. We’d been na├»ve, thinking we would also welcome a mellower time of Seasoned Love, of holding hands in the Silence of Knowing.

But we didn’t.

He didn’t. He had to leave because his heart could no longer keep pace with his intensity, his constant quest to fix things and put in hay and build relationships and try-try-try to mend situations that were clearly beyond mending.

I saw it. I saw it and I wanted him to slow down, to have a seat, to find contentment, to be still. JUST BE STILL.

And then his heart stopped.

And ours kept beating.

Myself and our daughters, we kept moving forward because that’s what the surviving do: they step into the tender lands of a place they do not know, a place without him.

Without his laughter, his dad jokes, his made-up silly songs. His love of bonfires in the back, down by the barn. His good humor toward the girls’ horses, which he often referred to as “hay burners”.

Of course he was always fixing things. He shored up the barn, the barn that everybody said should be razed. Start all over, they cautioned. Build something new.

But not him. No, not Roger. He gazed out our living room window at that barn, studying the way it sagged to the one side. The graying of worn wood from weather and wind and a ‘hundred winters.

Then one day he began. He had help from family, but mostly he took it on as a personal mission. Openly marveling at the dove-tailed wood in that old barn, Roger made it sturdy again. He honored the craftsmanship that had gone before. The barn rallied and stood strong. Impervious to the winds, like Roger himself.

That barn? That old barn is a metaphor for the life he and I shared. The landmark was once a New Beginning on top of a windswept hill. A cathedral of Possibility.

That old barn was made sturdy by times of abundance and in lean times, too. It grew long in the tooth but proved immeasurable in endurance. That structure held laughter in its walls, harbored tools, welcomed children, kept all God’s creatures safe and dry.

Held secrets.

That old barn.

Our abbreviated lives.

It’s beautiful still, that sanctuary of wood and clay and dirt, still sheltering livestock, still smelling of hay and tractors, of oats and manure.

I drive up there sometimes, just to be sure it’s still there. And it is. It’s always there – like the memory of our life together. I can count on that, at least.

So back to the photo. A quick snapshot of myself, standing in front of his gravestone.

Maybe there is a wisp of beauty, after all – a spark of durability; an elegance that rises from unfathomable loss.

This is not vanity, this notion of seeing myself beautiful. This is grit and moxie and a gutsy refusal to lose hope.

A striking kind of loveliness. Harvested from suffering. I’ve seen this in the eyes of other widows, this odd, reflective beauty. The pain is there, but so is the hope – that relentless belief that as long as you cherish the memories, that person lives on inside your own heart.

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
 A time to kill and a time to heal.

    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
 A time to cry and a time to laugh.

    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
 A time to search and a time to quit searching.

    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
 A time to love and a time to hate.

    A time for war and a time for peace.

 What do people really get for all their hard work?  I have seen the burden God has placed on us all.  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 New Living Translation

The book, “Older Love” by Warren Hanson, is a lovely collection of thoughts and illustrations celebrating the mellowed love of old age.

The photo of the old barn is a Google image – although it strongly resembles our hilltop barn before it was fixed up.

 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Digging for Gems

 


The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

ELIZABETH GILBERT 

Dear humans in the relentless industry of helping people:

Just remember, while you are excavating hopeful shiny gems that surface under your careful surveillance ... there are also impossibly exquisite jewels emerging from your own heart.

 

Remember that.


This blog supports booksforbondinghearts.com

Please consider purchasing my newly published children's book, Will You Hold My Story? - a story about listening, for kids of all ages. You can read customer reviews by visiting https://www.amazon.com/Will-You-Hold-My-Story/

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Matt's Pen

 

 

Some childhood stories stick with you like bright, bobbing buoys in uncharted seas. They serve as vivid markers as we navigate our days.


One story, for me, is about a worker who lost his job. Everything was gone: his income, his years of education, his sense of purpose. He’d been a well-known businessman.

But the one thing he took away from that career was his pen.

That pen? This guy repurposed it for writing stories that would be published and passed down to generations of readers.

By all accounts, this author did not make money from his stories. Something of greater value emerged: his legacy.

The stories became powerful influencers for good: affirmations, encouragement, purpose-filled texts to uplift, to sustain.

I’ve always liked this story. It is timeless. Relatable. Unique yet universal.

We are all repurposing our gifts, just like this writer dude from ancient times.

Sewing machines are being regenerated into mask factories.

Fitness coaches are upping their game - moving their services to interactive video sessions.

Boardroom meetings are expanding into Zoom extravaganzas – wonderfully unexpected, often funny, exchanges among colleagues.

First Responders are keeping us safe in challenging conditions.

Team Leaders are repurposing and expanding their skills to maneuver the platoons and keep everyone focused.

It’s amazing, really, this human capacity to adapt and redirect and manage and breathe;

To release what we’d planned on and embrace what is.

To be grateful we have paychecks, while others are still waiting for help.

To shift our perspective from Planning to Adapting.

To walk away from everything familiar and step into the Unknown.

Perhaps, in a way, we are plying our pens – writing our own stories for our children to read and re-read.

These heirlooms handed down will far surpass any Roth-IRA, 401-K or Estate provision.

Treasures of survival are the currency that can never be stolen, lost or wrongly invested.

You have more abundance than you know.

With reserves to bank on when times are lean.



Kathy Joy

Another look at the gospel of Matthew

May 20, 2020

 



Wednesday, May 12, 2021

With Every Heartbeat


 In small incremental ways, we are returning to “normal”.

Will we ever experience the “normal” we knew pre-pandemic?

Impossible to know.

But, really – how much joy we are finding in the small things, things like actual salt and pepper shakers in the restaurant, instead of those ridiculous tiny packets that scatter everywhere when torn open.

We’re getting outside more. Enjoying nature. Stubborn Northerners, we are waiting out the lingering chill in May, certain that flip flop weather will finally return.

Making plans, feeling hopeful.

Alongside this buoyant feeling we have little remnants of dread, torn bits of anguish hovering in our peripheral vision.

“It’s complex,” a co worker remarked. “We want to believe we can step out, but there’s that little bit of hesitation.”

She’s right.

With every heartbeat there is a silent pulse of “what if”.

Another friend commented on an image of the heart, much like the one in this piece. She remarked, “It makes me think of all the ways our hearts are impacted, for good or for bad. And in this you see the scars, and the signs of growth”.

We are seeing and hearing and tasting bright ribbons of optimism. Yet some days, all we can taste of life is what isn’t here anymore. That’s a longing, a vague hankering for something we can’t even identify.

 

The heart is a

labyrinth,

a

maze

of

passageways

and

chambers.

One of my favorite authors, “Anonymous”, describes how the channels of the heart are formed:

“Sorrow with his pick mines the heart, but he is a cunning workman. He deepens the channels whereby happiness may enter, and he hollows out new chambers for joy to abide in when he is gone.”

Could it be? Could we actually be carriers of a deeper capacity for joy, now that we are slowly emerging from a global pandemic?

Is it possible? Is it imaginable that we are organically vaccinated against anguish? Are we building immunities against despair?

Let’s hope so.

When humans experience loss together, a new passageway is formed. It’s an alternative path toward repair, and it is made of the bone and sinew of sheer will, a spark of unmatched creativity and the kind of humor that has the guts to show up in the dark.

There is uncertainty, sure – clouds roll in, people die, the phone rings and resets your heartbeat forever.

Yet in the scrambled, confusing network of pain and joy mingled, there are markers of growth. There are signs of achievement.

There are strong sutures of binding up, of healing.

I’d never before considered laughter a weapon. It’s our first line of defense, portable and accessible whenever darkness dares sneak in sideways.

Proverbs 17:22, The Message "A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired."

We, like the heart, form a complicated and irregular network of pathways and mysterious chambers.

If we stop to learn about each other, we will see the scars, the signs of growth, the purpose and the destination.

That’s the kind of “normal” I hope we are moving toward, arm-in-arm and mindfully matching our strides to each other’s.

This blog supports booksforbondinghearts.com

Please consider purchasing my newly published children's book, Will You Hold My Story? - a story about listening, for kids of all ages. You can read customer reviews by visiting https://www.amazon.com/Will-You-Hold-My-Story/





Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Humor Vaccine

 

It was more than a year ago that we found ourselves in a peculiar lockdown with many unknowns.

A colleague at my office reached out to me with a suggestion we send words of encouragement to the now-disjointed staff.

And so it began: The Daily Jab.

Now pared down to a less frequent occurrence, the “jab” has made attempts to soften the edges of a scary and long pandemic.

I looked back on the jabs from a year ago and thought you might like to read the one on humor.

With some fine-tuning and a few updates, here we go.

Humor is the antitoxin to sadness – and we’ve all had more than our share of grief.

Please, let’s not go it alone.

With over a year of restrictions, cancelled events and masking up, we’ve all become travelers on a journey we never signed up for.

So many detours, too many roadblocks. Our resilience has been tested and found stronger, yet we are a bit bedraggled and road-weary.

Laughter, however, knows no boundaries; it refuses to be contained or dispersed in measured doses.

Laughter spills out everywhere, with little regard for policy and procedure.

How lovely is that?

Humor is an audacious display of endurance.

Laughter is the music of saying, “I care, and I want to see your smile.”


Laughter is a generous glass of mineral water: bubbly, effervescent and delightfully hydrating!

The memes and jokes floating around are surely a healthy antidote to boredom: a ripple of laughter becomes a hug of affirmation; a giddy embrace of joy.

Someone once said laughter is “jogging on the inside”. That’s a good strategy as we continue figuring out how to keep ourselves healthy while leaning toward normal days.

What we need most these days is a hug.

Recently I listened to a podcast about a woman who just wanted to be held. It broke my heart.




Until we can go back to our social norms of meaningful connection, let’s continue sending ripples of humor into the unknown.

Let’s stay connected in playful, childlike ways.

 


 


A good belly laugh releases endorphins, and those are natural inhibitors of pain.

Even a quiet chuckle gives you an upswing of wellbeing for the moment.

Moment by moment – that’s how we’ll continue navigating this foggy voyage, this weird interval in history.

Because, you know what?

We are pathfinders. We’re doing this together, this off-kilter Covid dance, and we will emerge strong. We’ll gather like superheroes at a comic con jubilee: caped up, compassionate and absolutely intrepid.


Infectious humor is the vaccine. Laughter inoculates against despair.

It’s available in unlimited supply. Organically dispatched through real time, Zoom, phone calls, texts and other passageways toward human beings.

Including elbow bumps and rogue hugs. Especially the hugs.

We’re all in need of a boost.

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” 

>Victor Borge, comedian/pianist




 

 

This blog supports https://booksforbondinghearts.com/

Please learn more about my newly published children's book, Will You Hold My Story? - a story about listening, for kids of all ages. You can read customer reviews by visiting https://www.amazon.com/Will-You-Hold-My-Story/