A Death Anniversary

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A Death Anniversary by Robynn

On April 12, 2014, our youngest daughter, Bronwynn, went bowling with her Sunday School teachers. The previous week she and I had been to a special Butterfly Pavilion at the mall. There she had purchased three tiny caterpillars in a precarious cardboard box with her own money. She had watched the caterpillars with anticipation. And she was not disappointed. They had been transformed right in front of her eyes. The cat had apparently also been watching from a distance. When Bronwynn was away from the house bowling, the cat seized his opportunity.  He must have noticed a rustling and ruffling noise coming from the small cardboard box. Ever curious, he attacked the box and by the time Bronzi came home, there was only one rather traumatized monarch left in the box, quivering on a small broken stick.

My husband, Lowell broke the news to her on the way home from the bowling alley. Her grief was in full swing when they reached the house. She was so angry at that cat! She searched the house, thinking, hoping, praying the missing monarchs were still somewhere. Her denial quickly gave way to greater waves of rage and sorrow. She sobbed. She cried. She told the cat, in no uncertain terms, how she felt. We took the remaining butterfly outside and she released it to the spring trees, to the camaraderie of other butterflies, to the joy of freedom.

Unbeknownst to us, that was the prequel to our grief.

Later in the day we went to a dinner party with friends from church. While we were there our son Connor called. The car had died. He was just about to leave his girlfriend’s house but the car wouldn’t start. Lowell excused himself from the circle and went to get Connor.

Another sympathetic element perhaps?

An hour or so after he had left, Lowell called my cell phone. I saw his name come up and I started to laugh. I just knew that he was calling to see where I was, when I was coming home! I took the phone into the entryway and answered it. I’ll never forget Lowell’s words, “Robynn, there’s no good way to say this but…… Dad is dead!”

The air that escaped my body was loud enough to silence the room. Every one gathered near or around me. They waited with me while I waited to hear Lowell’s voice quickly, quietly, tell me what he knew, which wasn’t very much. There had been an accident involving a tractor. His brother Bryan was out there. Lowell was on his way. He hadn’t told the kids. Could I come home and be with them?

Who knew that one tractor, one load of firewood, and one too-steep hill could have so much power to change the stories of our entire family? It still makes my chest tighten all funny to think of Lowell’s mom waiting in the house for dad to come back in the dying day’s fading light. I can imagine her agonies over when to make that phone call to Bryan to please come look for dad. There was another phone call from Bryan to Lowell asking him to come help and to please bring flashlights and batteries. And then that one sudden discovery midway through that particular phone conversation: dad, covered in saw dust and cedar tree needles and the earth’s dirt, laying there in the dark, pinned under a tractor tire.

Everything changed that day and in some ways we continue to live into those changes. We’re still settling into them. We moved to a house appropriate for three generations to share. Mom moved off the farm and in with us. Bryan’s family moved out to the farm. Eventually Bryan’s house sold and they bought the farm. Although it felt at times, that the melody was silenced, we shifted around like a game of musical chairs.

Last year Larry’s death happened a week before Easter; this year the anniversary of his death is a week after Easter Sunday;. We were a week into funeral arrangements and death details when we pushed pause in order to remember Good Friday and to celebrate Easter Sunday. Larry’s death was all entangled and entwined with our observances and our celebrations. His death was all mixed together with the Resurrection.

Today is, In Western Christian tradition, Good Friday. It’s a death anniversary of a more significant sort. The execution of Jesus, although no accident, changed the stories of masses of people that day. Who knew that one crude cross and another too-steep hill, one confusing trial, one chaotic crowd and one innocent man could have such eternal consequence? It makes my chest do that uncomfortable tightening again to think of another mother waiting at the foot of the cross for the Father to do something to end the Son’s agonies. She too had to wait while the day died and along with it her dreams, her expectations, her plans, her baby.

I suppose, from now on, my experience with Good Friday and Easter will always be a little entwined with my memories of butterflies and stubborn cars and Larry’s death. Death happened. Larry suddenly, shockingly, surprisingly stopped breathing. It makes complete sense that his death be all wrapped up in the bigger story of the Resurrection. Because that’s the way it really is. All of our deaths are now forever consumed in that Wholly Momentous Resurrection! Death is now wrapped in hope. It’s lost it’s power to paralyze. The cocoons are ripped open and we are transformed in the blink of an eye, released to life and the joy of true freedom. Larry’s death serves to remind me of these sweet realities.

Today, on Good Friday, I choose to sit in my grief. I remember Larry—alive, hospitable, generous—and now gone. I remember Jesus—alive, full of grace and mercy, a friend of sinners—put to death. Larry ‘s death brings me to tears. Jesus’ death, sorrowful and somber, is also cause for deep sacred grief.

The death of Jesus is also deeply holy and redemptive. The story isn’t over on Good Friday. We wait for the fullness of time. We wait for the plan that is bigger and higher and broader than ours. We wait with anticipation for Life! We wait expectantly for Sunday and the Resurrection.

If you…believe that the Lord Jesus Christ Is the Eternal (One), and that He died for all your sins, then for you, Good Friday is the most sorrowful, the most solemn, and yet, one of the holiest days of the entire year. (WikiHow)

“But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die,this Scripture will be fulfilled:

Death is swallowed up in victory.O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?

(1Cor 15:51-55)

“On Good Friday – A View from Above” at A Life Overseas

Today in the Christian Faith is a day we set aside. I recognize that many readers do not share the same truth claims and I am so grateful that you still come by and read! But today I am at A Life Overseas where I stop and reflect on some of what this means to me. I hope you’ll stop by! 

Bab ZuweilaTwin minarets

In the city of Cairo twin minarets stand tall, their silhouettes marked against a clear blue sky. They stand distinguishable from the thousand other minarets because of their fame as a city landmark. The minarets frame a gate still standing since the 11th century, the gate of Bab Zuweila. The minaret towers are so high that they were used to look out for enemy troops coming up to attack the city. Now, centuries later, the minarets of Bab Zuweila provide an unparalleled view of the old city of Cairo.

Climbing up the minarets is a journey. Around ancient steps you walk – farther and farther up, dizzy from the spiral and half frightened from the dark staircase. You make it to the first area where you go out and stand looking over the vast city of 18 million people. But you’re compelled to go farther. So on you go. And it gets more rickety and frightening, the centuries-old steps become even narrower and darker. You can see nothing and you are grasping on to the steps in front of you for fear of falling. But you keep going.

You arrive at the second level. And it’s even more magnificent than the first. To your right you see Al Azhar Park, significant for its large and beautiful green space in a city that has so little. In this 360 degree view you see vast numbers of minarets, you hear the call to prayer going off at split-second intervals across the city – a cacophony echoing around you. You see thousands of people, tiny as they go from bazaar to mosque to bus. You see the tent makers bazaar, making out the beautiful colors even from this distance.

It’s the view from above. And it is glorious, breath-taking and conversation stopping. But you can go even farther…..READ THE REST HERE! 

Bab Zuweila

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A Thousand Little Conversions – A Good Friday Meditation

This week it struck me that faith is not a one-time  “come to Jesus” event. Or rather there’s not one point of belief. I don’t think there’s one moment of conversion.

We are called to a thousand little conversions. We are invited into constant transformation, continuous reformation.

The Light of the World (Manchester Art Gallery)

In 1854 William Holman Hunt painted a picture he entitled, The Light of the World. It depicts Jesus standing at an old overgrown door knocking. Upon deeper inspection you see that the door has no handle. Although some critics assumed Hunt had forgotten a door handle Hunt insisted the door handle was missed by deliberate design. Fifty years after he painted it he was still explaining the symbolism– the door could only be opened from the inside representing what he called our “obstinately stubborn mind(s)”.

I love the picture. It moves me to see Jesus still wearing his crucifixion crown of thorns standing there so gently. He’s waiting. Patiently.

I answered the door and let Jesus in years ago.

But I’ve discovered that Jesus is kind of like a nosy neighbor, he keeps knocking. And more recently he’s started ringing the doorbell too. He doesn’t call first, he just shows up. Now I find he’s been exploring my soul-house and he’s tapping on other doors too.

I find him rapping gently on my children’s doors. Will I trust him with my kids? Will I let him be in charge of the Parenting of their souls, the Writer of their stories? Will I? It’s a moment of decision. I have to make the choice to let him into those rooms.

He’s shown up at my closet door. Will I trust him with what I’ll wear? He’s been in the kitchen too. I wouldn’t be surprised if he knocks on the fridge door next. Will I believe that he’ll provide for the very basic things we need? Do I honestly think he’ll take care of our family?

In February he knocked on the cupboard door where I keep our photo albums. I thought that was ridiculous! What on earth was he doing wanting in there? I was pretty sure he had the wrong door, but I opened it for him and showed him the contents. He wants me to trust him with my memories, with my past, with the pain of being separated from my parents when I went to boarding school. Will I? Will I let him redeem even that space?

These are moments of conversion for me. These are thousands of opportunities for him to change my mind about my kids, about the food I eat, the clothes I wear, the memories I hide. There are thousands of these little conversions every day.

In India we rarely used the word “conversion”. It had come to mean “forced conversion”. There were groups of Christians who would move into a village and promise seed to grow their crops for everyone that would “convert”. Naturally, thousands of people “converted” and earned their free seed. (I’ve certainly done much less to earn a free gift as a result of marketing ploys)! Months later groups of Hindus would then move into the same village and offer a free blanket for those who “convert” back to Hinduism. Of course thousands would “convert” back for their free blanket. Nothing happened in the heart for those poor manipulated villagers. The statistics the Christians were collecting were padded. The numbers of reclaimed were increased for the Hindus that came reconverting later. It was a manipulated mess. Consequently we tried to avoid the word, “convert”.

With the crucified Jesus there is no such thing as a “forced conversion”. He doesn’t force his way into any space. Jesus knocks patiently and gently. He asks permission. We can ignore the knocking. We can pretend no one is home initially and then later when he gets nosy and curious we can pretend there’s nothing of interest in the places where he knocks. He will never push his way in. He will never barge in. He is ever long-suffering. He’ll wait.

But when he enters a space, no matter how mundane or painfully significant, he brings freedom and rest. He redeems. He restores.

Like Hunt, I think Jesus still wears the crown of thorns. It reminds us that he endured a lot for the opportunity to be a part of our lives. The cross matters. It’s a matter of life or death for us. The cross was the way, as mysterious as it is, that God made for us to be able to relate to him at all.

Today, on Good Friday, I’m letting Jesus in. Deeper. I want to trust him with more. I want him to continue to convert me, transform me, change me. I want him to make himself at home.

This is my (Good) Friday prayer for a thousand little conversions.

The Wound Healer

silence-of-shame

My friend Carol is a wound healer – literally.  As a Registered Nurse she completed a specialty in wound care several years ago and has worked as a wound specialist ever since.  She combines a unique gift with a specialty education and the result is quite remarkable. She is good. Really good. Doctors around the area all ask to work with her as she brings this remarkable skill into the lives of their patients.

With knowledge of bandages and salves, antibiotics and specialty products she assesses the wound and moves in with her skill. Old people, young people, surgical wounds, diabetic wounds, deep wounds and less so – they are examined, assessed and she works her magic, a magic born of hard work, knowledge and a gift.

I have learned through Carol and through my training that physical wound healing is a dynamic process. It’s a process that involves a series of  stages or phases – and it’s not necessarily straight forward. The four phases are hemostasis, the inflammatory phase, the proliferation phase and the maturation phase.

Hemostasis is that first response of the body to injury. The body is, in a sense, on high alert and blood clots are formed to stop the bleeding and control the injury. Quickly afterwards comes the inflammatory stage. This is when the wound is red and warm, it hurts and we want to cry as well as guard it. Beyond the pain the body is working hard to repair through getting antibodies, nutrients, and white blood cells to the wounded area. This is a painful stage and we react accordingly.

The proliferation stage is the beginning of rebuilding. The wound begins to granulate from the bottom up, closing in and healing along the way. Essential to this process is that the wound have proper nutrients and oxygen that is supplied by blood vessels. If you cut off the oxygen supply then you jeopardize the healing process.

The last phase is called maturation. This continues the process of rebuilding but takes it a step farther to complete healing – this process works to remodel and refashion the wound. It is important to remember that this process of complete healing can take up to two years. And it’s a critical time. Wounds may look like they have healed, but if not careful they can break down so depending on a number of factors, wounds can go forwards or backwards.

The thing is Carol not only helps to heal physical wounds but in the process of working with salves, antibiotics, gauze, and specialty materials for the physical she interacts with the emotional.

And that is her true gift.  She helps to heal emotional wounds.  She communicates with so much compassion that the patient relaxes under her care and before you know it, she knows everything about the wounds behind the scenes.  The wounds that take way more than betadine dressings and silvadene ointment – the wounds of the heart and the wounds of the soul. Wounds of broken marriages and families torn apart. Wounds of rejection and physical abuse. Wounds between a father and a daughter, a father and a son. Wounds of being told you’ll never amount to anything. Wounds of betrayal. Through the skill of her mind and hands, these other wounds come to light.

And remarkably the process is similar. There is the hemostasis phase of emotional wounds, where the body is fighting to control the damage. And then comes the inflammatory stage – that stage where your heart is so raw, you can’t hide it. It is inflamed. It hurts. You pull back when people try to get close because you are afraid they will wound further.

The wounded heart or soul then goes through the proliferation phase – and the oxygen and nutrients are those people who can come beside us. Those people who bring life to our hurting souls.

Finally the remodeling. Just as the last stage in wound healing is not obvious to the casual observer,this remodeling of the heart and soul does not show; it’s the person who is close who knows it’s taking place. The casual observer doesn’t even know there’s a wound at this point. The blood is gone. The inflammation is gone. But the remodeling is still taking place.

It’s people like Carol who use their gifts and walk the wounded through this. Carol brings compassion to the hurting piece and truth-telling to the healing piece. She is indeed a Wound Healer in a world of the wounded.

In my faith tradition today is an important day. It’s Good Friday, the day that Christians remember the death of Christ in an act of ultimate sacrifice. It seems right that I tell this story of wound healing as I think of  those wounds that healed the world.

Blogger’s Note: Another Carol who is a Wound Healer is my sister-in-law. Maybe it’s in the name….Read this article that she wrote after doing flood relief in Pakistan.

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The Day Between

I know today is Good Friday but what happens between tonight and Easter Sunday?

What happens to us on the days between tragedy and healing? What transpires when the crisis is over, but the end is not yet revealed? The days after the car accident, but before the broken leg has healed and the insurance has been paid. The days after diagnosis of cancer, but before treatment. The days after a funeral, but before we’ve adjusted to the loss.

These are the days between, when instead of darkness or light there is a lingering nervousness and knowledge that something is not quite settled, not quite right. The days between are often the most difficult and the most lonely, and they are undoubtedly the most common.So it is between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, where we are suspended between death and life. “It is Finished” has been spoken, “He is Risen” is yet to come. In the west the day is often filled with shopping for marshmallow chicks, chocolate bunnies, and fake grass to line plastic easter baskets.  In her book, The Irrational SeasonMadeleine L’Engle gives me a different view of the day between.

“In the Western Church, we jump directly from Good Friday to Easter Day, with Saturday a vague blank in between. But in the Eastern Church, Great and Holy Saturday is one of the most important days of the year.”

She goes on to say:

Where was Jesus on that extraordinary day between the darkness of Good Friday and the brilliance of Easter Sunday? He was down in hell. And what was he doing there? He was harrowing hell, or to put it in simpler words, he was ministering to the damned.

Christian graphic art has often tended to make my affirmation of Jesus Christ as Lord almost impossible, for far too often he is depicted as a tubercular goy, effeminate and self-pitying. The first “religious” picture I saw which excited me and stretched and enlarged my faith was a small black and white photograph of the fresco over the altar of the Church of the Chora in Istanbul; a few years ago it was my privilege to visit Istanbul and see this fresco for myself.

The Church of the Chora is now a museum, but when we were there on a chill morning with the smell of the first snow in the air, it was empty. As we stepped over the threshold we came face to face with a slightly more than life-size mosaic of the head of Christ, looking at us with a gaze of indescribable power. It was a fierce face, nothing weak about it, and I knew that if this man had turned such a look on me and told me to take up my bed and walk, I would not have dared not to obey. And whatever he told me to do, I would have been able to do.

The mosaic was preparation for the fresco over the altar. I stood there, trembling with joy, as I looked at this magnificent painting of the harrowing of hell. In the center is the figure of Jesus striding through hell, a figure of immense virility and power. With one strong hand he is grasping Adam, with the other, Eve, and wresting them out of the power of hell. The gates to hell, which he has trampled down and destroyed forever, are in cross-form, the same cross on which he died. . .”

And as I meditate on this reading, I can’t help but realize that what happens in the days between, between Good Friday & Easter Sunday, is crucial to the final outcome.

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View From Above

In my faith tradition it is Holy Week. The week between Palm Sunday and Easter with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in between. The week traditionally begins with Palm Sunday and includes palm fronds, small children singing (except this year it didn’t)and a lot of songs with the word Hosannah. It moves forward trying to pull me away from my distractions with a service commemorating the last supper on Maundy or Holy Thursday and is successful in attaining my complete attention on Good Friday, as I sit, without distractions, at a service in a church stripped of all the extras of a normal time of worship. An opportunity to remember incomparable love and sacrifice.

Holy Week is a chance to put on different glasses and look at the bigger picture, the view from above. The view that some day all of ‘this’ will make sense, wrong will be made right, tears will turn to laughter, and sorrow to joy. Holy Week is a time where I am invited to focus, not on my narrative and story, but on God’s story. A story of mercy and grace, where good triumphs over evil.  It is a reminder that in the palm of God’s hand I am fully alive and completely safe despite what the picture below, the here and now, looks like.

Even signs around me point to a view from above. Blossoming trees, first flowers, plants with beginning buds all shout out that there is a bigger picture taking place, a picture that moves nature and humanity from death to life. Into this Holy Week came an NPR segment called “Beyond Bunnies: The Real Meaning of Easter Season” a short interview by Michele Norris with Annie Lamott. Asked what this season meant to her she replied:

“Well, it’s the most profound holiday in the Christian tradition,” Lamott says. “And I think two things really come to mind. One is something that the great writer Barbara Johnson said, which is that we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. And I think that every year the world seems more of a Good Friday world. And it’s excruciating, whether it’s Japan, or Libya, or whether its your own best friends and their children who are sick, which is something that makes no sense when you think about a loving God. But it’s a time when we get to remember that all the stuff that we think makes us of such value, all the time we spend burnishing our surfaces, is really not what God sees…” Annie Lamott, NPR – April 18, All Things Considered

And that’s it – All this stuff “is really not what God sees”. I’m not great at living this out on a daily basis, but during Holy Week I am fully reminded that now I may  see a blurry image without focus and clarity, but some day, I’ll see “face to face. ”