IMG_2894I’ve been searching for the smallest number of words to sum up my friend Alma. The pithiest statement. The one that nails it and leaves everybody nodding because that little word comes as close as you can come to sum up what was so uniquely Alma. The thing that makes you want to stand up and applaud God for making an element in one of His creatures so spectacular. The way you do when you see the sky painted like you’ve never seen it before, or a mountain range buried in puffy white clouds, or the giggle of a baby that pushes away frustration, or the beam in the eyes of a groom as he glimpses his bride for the first time in all her splendor. The thing that makes you want to say – thank you for making this transcendent thing so very apparent through this one human being. Do it again God. Do it again. Help me see this again. Find it again. See it in myself maybe. And in others. Do it again.

She loved her kid. She loved her family. She loved her husband. She loved animals. All those things would leave us nodding about Alma, but we could say that about many people, couldn’t we? I think I could say it about myself. About many of my friends. Those are good words. Very good words. But the truth after thinking through her life, at least my limited exposure to it — how I met her, how we came together at significant points, how she died — I think there is a great word that smushes it all into the most succinct package. When we hear this word later in this piece, later today, later this month, later in our lives, I wonder if God will use it to remind us of something profoundly holy about the way He shows up in a life.   Not only in Alma’s, but how He offers Himself in life in general. Because, by holy, we generally mean set apart.  Profoundly different than the hard and hurt and cold and efficient world we see around us day in and day out.

Just about every encounter I had with Alma left me with this growing idea inside my heart. This notion that there was a theme that kinda defined Alma. A word. I picked three short vignettes to share with you hoping that you’ll arrive at the same conclusion. The same or a similar word before I reveal. Hoping that God will continue to live through the story of Alma’s life to bless and reach and transform. The first story, I hope, will make you laugh. The second, I think, will probably make you cry, but in a good way. And the third, well, I believe it may help you cope. At least it is helping me.  All three lead me inescapably to the conclusion — Alma had a word.

So let’s start by laughing. How I met Alma. I was at my friend Laura Dahne’s house having lunch and she says something like,

“Hey Kat, I gotta cut this short. I have a dear friend who is really sad and I need to go and love on her.”

“Oh,” I said. “Why is she sad?”

“She had a miscarriage. I know it must be emotionally very painful.”

Having had a miscarriage myself, I’m thinking – emotionally very painful? Oh, yeah. It is awful. And for odd reasons that transcend the general harsh reality of death. While a miscarriage is like any death, it is generally more isolating and met with less sympathy because most people are not even aware that you were pregnant to begin with. Nobody saw your round belly move or felt the wild delight that you were bathed in as you imagined pink or blue, what kind of mom you’d turn out to be, how many kids you’d have, what you’d name this new little human. To a longing and expectant mother, a miscarriage feels like someone hit you with a two by four of despair and you just want the whole world to stop spinning while you get your hope legs again. The drunkenness of delight gets broadsided – bam – by the two by four of death.   Sound like I’m overstating it a bit? Ask just about any woman who has been through it. It sucks.

So I said to Laura with a sudden pain for this stranger I’d never met, “I wanna go.” Laura, who knows me very well, did not think this at all weird. And being full of wisdom, she decided on the spot, that our conspiracy of love for Alma would be much more successful if we didn’t actually tell her that I was coming. We would just show up together and Laura would rely more on forgiveness than permission if everything went to hell in a hand-basket.

Over we drove to Alma’s parents’ house where Alma was sunken into the fibers of the couch exhausted from crying and desperate for the arms of a friend. Broken-hearted. The minute Laura walked in, she looked relieved and ready to be safely held by someone who didn’t care what she looked like, how she was dressed, whether snot got on her shoes or tears stained her dress. She looked like the shipwrecked sailor who sees the rescue plane hover over the SOS she painted desperately on the shore. That is, until she saw me, a complete stranger, emerge from behind Laura. Alma kinda froze. Didn’t say a word. Her eyes bounced back and forth from Laura to me. The beautiful look of relief turned to confusion and then to something akin to piss-off-ed-ness. She didn’t have to say a word. Her eyes said it all. Really? You brought a friend with you? A stranger? You brought someone I don’t even know into the middle of this most intimate horrible time? Really Laura? Are you kidding me? I thought you were my friend!

As I started to question what seemed a few short moments before like a really good idea, I decided to keep it brief and to the point and then get out as quickly as possible. I walked right over to Alma, sat on the couch and said, “my name is Kat. I’m not going to stay. I just want you to know that I’ve had a miscarriage. I know the pain you are feeling. And I want you to know that God carried me through it and that’s how I know He can carry you too, if you’ll let Him.” I told her some of the things that I learned on my journey and then I got up to leave. Only Alma, my new miscarriage-BFF was coiled around me like a grape vine sobbing, starting to let it go, and starting to heal. It seems the two by four of hope had transcended the two by four of death. That it hits harder than death and it leaves you just as dizzy, but in a good way. In a way that you may still be flattened but you’re eyes are open and you’re looking up nonetheless.   And it was only possible because Alma didn’t reject the presence of a stranger in the midst of her pain. She didn’t say no to hope. She said yes.

Alma at our first retreat together

               Alma [right] at our first retreat together with Laura the Brave [middle]                         and Kat the Hot Mess But Blessed One [left]

And so a friendship began. We would go to retreats together, text and call each other, celebrate her post miscarriage pregnancy. I would see her arrive in Weston months later with baby Matthew holding him like a promise from God in front of my face – behold God’s miracle! Behold hope! What an awesome friend.

Alma holding her miracle Matthew

Alma holding her miracle Matthew

 

 

But that damn two by four of pain. It would come again. Like a wallop leaving her dizzy and undone. She had been coughing. The doctor ordered a lung biopsy. There we were again. Laura, Alma, David (her husband) and me, wound up like a little grape vine praying before she went into the procedure. Only this time, Alma had invited hope into her pain.   Come on! You got a two by four of hope? Come to my biopsy! Come on. Let’s hit it harder than it is hitting us. Come on! It was in this second encounter with Alma that the word – Alma’s word – got a little more defined for me. I didn’t know it then. But I know it now in the rear view mirror where things always seem so much clearer.

The procedure took a long time. Alma’s sister, Laura and I found ourselves sitting together in the surgical waiting room having the kind of conversation you have with a stranger. You see, we didn’t know Alma’s sister. As we were getting to know her and swapping Alma stories, this loud wailing in Spanish started to drown out our conversation. It wasn’t Alma. We all knew her voice. But it was coming from the same place where Alma was having her procedure – behind the doors where people aren’t supposed to go. DO NOT ENTER UNLESS AUTHORIZED. Nohimi, the Spanish speaker amongst us, finally acknowledged the white elephant we were all trying to suppress – “do you know what she’s saying? She’s repeating over and over — I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to do this alone. I don’t want to be alone.”

So Nohimi, suddenly feeling the pain of this total stranger, says, “let’s go sit in there with her. So she doesn’t have to be alone.” So we went where nobody was supposed to go, three strangers, into a room of a woman who was wailing under the weight of the two by four of despair. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to do this alone. I don’t want to be alone. We didn’t do much really. Nohimi, Laura and I just sat with her, prayed for her, sang to her, listened to her, told her about God and how He promises us His presence. That we were only present because she cried out.  And then, eventually, she just fell totally and completely calm.  Started watching TV and eating the food that was set before her.   The two by four of hope transcended the two by four of despair yet again all because Alma invited us to be present in her pain. The two by four of hope was hitting harder than the two by four of pain leaving its lasting mark on us all.   Thank you Alma for inviting His presence into your pain. We were all transformed by that wallop of hope. Dizzy, in a good way. Looking up at the end of the day. Not drown in a sea of despair.

IMG_2913

The Green Smoothie Girls, prayer warriors for Alma and our friend Tricia and…

Over the next few years, I would watch Alma intimately involve others in her cancer journey.   The B.A.D. Girls of ECC. The girls you see in these prayer jackets — the Green Smoothie Girls— would pray as an army, drink green smoothies daily for a month, sip from the same water goblets where the words “renew us” were written.

Our girls weekend away

Our girls weekend away

She’d go away for a girl’s weekend, then to another retreat, no hair, sick as a dog, grabbing on to hope. Looking up. Praising/Asking God in her pain for His presence every step of the way. She didn’t let despair and pain and sickness drive her into isolation. She invited the presence of God and He always seemed to come with this crazy group of 2×4 hope swingers. Everybody looking up in some way after each dizzying blow.

IMG_2611And then, the last two by four of pain would wallop.   Try to hit us harder than we could bear. The pain of death. We were in Atlanta. At Cancer Centers of America. The whole family was a part of her journey there — husband son mother father sister brother brothers-in-law sisters-in-law nieces friend. The whole shootin match. We started visiting the highlights of her life with her. Best moments with mom and dad. Best friendship moments. Funnies stories. What do you want Matthew to know? And then this random question. Did you have a favorite childhood song? One that takes you back to your comfort as a child? Transcends time?  Circles you back to the earliest beginning? I looked at mom with a question mark face? It was just too overwhelming to go there.  As a mother myself, I can’t even begin to imagine.

IMG_2610So Alma, barely able to speak anymore started to mouth the words of a song her mama sang when she was a little girl. Then mama, reeling from the 2×4 of death, started to sing. And that two by four of hope rose up in the middle of that place yet again. Taller than the other. Hitting harder than the other.   Later in the waiting room I would meet a man whose adult daughter could barely speak because of a problem with her esophagus. “Can I tell you what I just learned from my friend Alma? When you can’t speak, you need to sing. Sing her favorite childhood song. See what happens. See what rises up in her.   He lit up with hope. Yes! That’s it. I can sing to her. That is what I will do. I’ll sing.”   When Alma couldn’t speak, the room was often filled with her favorite worship music. She wasn’t singing with her lips, but sometimes her foot would keep the beat or her face would radiate peace.   Bam. Dizzy. Up. Hope.

Later I would realize that the shorter two by four, the horizontal one, the one that is filled with the pain and death and suffering and despair that we can see at eye level with the world, is cut right through the center by the two by four of hope. That second two by four is bigger, points right into heaven and makes itself into the shape of a perfect cross as it crushes death and pain and suffering. God overcoming death. Hope bigger than despair. God literally with us in death and rising to life everlasting. Where heaven meets earth like a sloppy big kiss. Fully present in our pain and then overcoming it. Transcending it. So we can too. By His presence.

So here’s my word for Alma.

predrenched-webYour first guess will probably be hope.  And that’s a really good answer.  It’s the primary answer for another friend of mine who was great with a 2×4 — Tricia.  For Alma, I think that’s the B+ answer. Because it’s dependent on the A+ answer which is presence.  Hope, I believe, comes from the presence of the Lord. God with us. At the cross.  Alma had a peace that came from PRESENCE. The two by four of hope always transcended her pain because she invited the presence of the Lord into it. And He, as He always seems to do, brings His body along in the process.

God, thank you for Alma. For her willingness to invite your presence into her pain.   And for what you do when we are willing to be there in Your presence.

Do it again Lord.  Do it again.  Transcend this place with the 2×4 of the presence which brings hope.

Amen.

Mistake Therapy

Posted: January 14, 2015 in blog post

The Titanic Bubble

I don’t know exactly when and how it started, but it started. My habit of avoiding mistakes. To me, making a mistake was like death. OK, not that bad, but pretty darn close. Praised so loudly for victories, I think I slowly started to convince myself that a normal life was filled with victories and no defeats. Mountains with no valleys. Roads with no speed bumps. Laughter with no tears. I started to think that there was something terribly wrong when I made a mistake. As long as I was riding the crest of a victory, or appeared to be, all was well with the world. Problem was, I was bucking reality. That’s not how life was designed to work. Still, I wasn’t ready to give up on the possibility that my life could work that way if I tried hard enough or simply believed it could. Like a captain standing on the bow of a sinking ship, I was yelling to myself, “It’s still safe to stay in this sinking mistake-less boat as long as there is just a little bit of deck above water.”  I insisted to myself that mistakes were abnormal and victories were the way life was designed to work. That I was doin’ well as long as I wasn’t messing up. Sounds funny looking back now. But it wasn’t then. And it isn’t now, particularly when I drift back to my old ways.

So how does one find herself in the un-reality of mistake-less living? Turns out, the only way to stay relatively ‘mistake free’ is to build a titanic sized bubble around yourself. To retreat from risk. To retreat from real life.  And that is exactly what I did. Very slowly at first.  And later, after lots of practice, with that habitual auto-pilot response that takes hold when you do something long enough. If it involved something that might lead to a mistake, I went the other way. If it involved something that I didn’t understand perfectly, I withdrew until I could master it privately and then I would emerge apparently mistake-less. The irony about that was hilarious. When I felt I had mastered something to the degree I was unlikely to make a mistake, the opportunity was already over.  And by the time I emerged, my mastery was, well, foolish. I’d justify my missed opportunity by arguing “I’ll have that in my arsenal for the next time this comes up.”   But life doesn’t seem to throw the same ball at you very often. Life balls aren’t soft and are caked with the messy nuances of life. Or, and this is the best one, I would sit on the sidelines in my little mistake free bubble and watch as others got messy and dirty and grew and laughed and cried.  Ironically, I looked at their ability to make mistakes, grow and move on as admirable. How did they do it? Why were the rules different for me? They were in the arena of life fighting the good fight covered with sweat and tears of joy and shining with the afterglow of perseverance. I was clean and neat but miserable on the sidelines watching and trying to grow without getting dirty.

And Then Along Came Angie

Angie may have well been named Angel because to me, she was one. She was exactly what I needed at the time I met her. As is so often the case, God puts the right people in our lives when we are ready to grow.   Or maybe they were always there and we were simply ready to hear what God was teaching all along. Anyway, Angie said something that scared the *&&^^%$ out of me. She said, if you aren’t making mistakes honey you aren’t growing.  Pop. There went my Titanic covering in one piercing statement. I didn’t really realize it yet, but the false protection of my bubble was gone. I wanted to put my fingers in my ears when she said it and loudly sing la la la la la la to drown out her needle piercing truth. To blow another bubble. Or to run away. Retreat to the safety of the sinking titanic sized false ground under my feet. But the truth was, I didn’t want to. I was drowning there. Lonely there. Not growing. I hated what she said because something in me knew it was true. And I didn’t know how to do the mistake thing very well. I had avoided them for so very long. Mistakes take lots of practice you know? And humility, which I clearly did not have in sufficient supply.

So I did what we so often do. I tried to ignore it. Avoid it. Run from it. Pretend it wasn’t real. But it haunted me every time a missed opportunity passed me by — If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t growing.  I could hear her like a bird on my shoulder. I started to notice all of the life that was slipping away. Started to pine for the messiness of working through mistakes. Started to notice all of the mistakes others were making and how it led to lessons, community and growth. To apologies and deep grace. To humility and strength.   I started to keep a mistake journal, asking myself daily, “did I take any risks? Did I avoid life because I was afraid of failing?” The exercise was like a cold shower. Actually, it was more like an ice bath. Holy cow, I was missing life!

Mistake Therapy

Slowly, my journal morphed into a challenge to make mistakes. Not intentionally. But as part of a deep desire to live authentically and fully. As I said yes to more opportunities, I started to record my inevitable mistakes with humor and tears of release. I don’t know where that journal is anymore, but the entries were hilarious. Something along the lines of.. “Said yes to speaking engagement. Afraid I’ll fail. Gonna do it anyway.” “Called the wrong coordinator for engagement and felt like a fool. I didn’t die. He was annoyed. I asked for grace. He softened.” “Agreed to help friend with problem. Didn’t know what to do when she got here.  It made her laugh. We learned together. It was nice to be vulnerable and free not to feel like I have to have all the answers.” “fell off stage at event after announcing speaker. I wanted to die.” OK, that one happened long after mistake therapy, but you get the point – I would never have been on that stage if I wasn’t willing to risk falling off. And you know what? At a meeting later to talk about the event and what went well and what didn’t, I was the one making the joke – “well gang, I took one for the team to distract from something the speaker said that didn’t go over very well. They’ll never remember that statement, but they’ll never forget me splayed out on the floor in my dress!” They laughed – hard — and patted me on the head with a mixture of pity and relief it wasn’t them! I still wanted to die, but I got through it. And they kept me around.

God’s Beautiful Bubble for the Weak

Here’s what God says about mistake therapy. He doesn’t use those words of course. He uses words more like these.  It is in our brokenness that we cling to Him.   Grow in Him. Meet Him. Literally, the bible says that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. 2 Cor. 12:9. When we are weak and vulnerable, we are humble. And when we aren’t so full of our own pride and emptied of our own power, we have room for God and His power. More than that, we realize pretty quickly, being perfect in our artificial self-made bubble is akin to creating our own god. And that’s the most horrible feeling of all. Feeling like you have to be perfect like God knowing all the while in your heart of hearts that you can’t be no matter how hard you try. It’s hell as far as I’m concerned.  And as far as God is concerned as well. It’s why He came. His power is made perfect in our weakness. We couldn’t be mistake-less so He took the hit and said, come all you broken ones and let me be your perfecting power. His grace is sufficient.

Drift

So yesterday my friend Roz asked me a question, seemingly out of the blue. “Remember that talk you gave on Mistake Therapy? Is it written down anywhere?” I didn’t remember. So I decided to write this. What Roz didn’t know, of course, is that I needed to write this to realize that I’m coming out of a long season of drift. Retreating from hard stuff for fear of failure. I said yes to the opportunities that are before me a while ago, but I’m smack dab in the midst of making a lot of mistakes and fighting the temptation to blow a new bubble.  Run away. Refuse to let God be God and be the power in my weakness. His grace is sufficient. When I am weak, then I am strong in Him.

So Angie, you’d be proud of me. I’m making lots of mistakes. It’s messy, but I’m growing. And Roz… thanks. God doesn’t make mistakes. He knew I needed to write this down. You and Angie make a great team of angels.

Love you both,

Kat

 

dont-show-mom

Tug of War — Don’t Tell Mom. http://www.photosbykat.com

I love being the daughter of Sally Alderman.   Having a mom that still cares whether I’m warm when I leave the house or whether I’ve reached my final destination in my car or whether I’m sleeping enough [she already knows I’m eating enough — :/] or whether I’ve gotten my flu shot this year or whether I will finally learn to say NO to too many things — her latest protective covering of love over my 50-year-old life.    When I got pregnant with my son, Aunt Jeannie, the matriarch of the Silverglate family, became mom for a precious moment.  She patted my not-yet-protruding belly and gave me a soulful look and said — ‘from birth to the grave, my dear.  You will carry that child from birth to the grave.’  It sounded so… I don’t know — daunting?  Like music should play in the background – da da da.  And I guess it should have, because, I’ve learned over almost 20 years now, it’s so damn true.

Yes, we empty our nests and we let our children go, but we never stop carrying them emotionally, spiritually, and some other way I can’t explain with enough texture to do it justice…  It is like there is this pilot light in your heart that always stays on.  It could ignite at any time. You see something or hear something or smell something that sends a spark to that little flame and woosh, the fire starts and there you are carrying them again.  Praying for the little flicker.  Picking up the phone.  Or just lifting up a little praise to the Creator for picking unqualified you out of all the mommy’s in the world for this little creature.   As long as God blesses us with the breath of life, we carry our children forever in our hearts.  We love to hear them talk.  Hate to see them suffer. Cry when they cry.  Laugh when they laugh.  We worry about them.   The pilot light is always on.

A month or so ago with a group of moms who still meet monthly to celebrate the fact that our kids brought us together through school [and we survived], we had one of our tender moments where we all share what’s going on with our cubs.  One after the other, the Lionesses recounted little vignettes about their prides.  Some were funny, some were sobering, some were sweet, but this one really got me.  It was from an awesome crazy woman who is fabulously animated and fun.  She was imitating herself listening to her son on the phone and she was saying “uh hugh, uh hugh, uh hugh” and then, quite dramatically, she pretended to cover the imaginary phone so he couldn’t hear her comment to us in the studio audience, “he could be talking about dirty laundry and I’d be thinking in my heart — just keep talking kid.  I love it when you talk.”  We all got mushy.  Wet eyed.  Nodded.  Yep!  Birth to the grave Aunt Jeannie.  Birth to the grave.

In the days and weeks leading up to my Africa trip, I could tell my mom wanted to explode with the desire to protect me — her half-century-old-cub.   She was the Lioness sensing all the danger and pacing around the pride.  I could also tell that she was depositing all this mother-protective-surge-o-love onto my sisters because she was really really quiet about any sense of fear or worry she might be feeling over the great African adventure.  She just kept telling me how excited she was.

Finally, the day before I left, sitting on her living room floor — the one where my son crawled when he was 2 and my dog slept every Christmas from the year he was born till the year he died and where she paced waiting for me to come home at all hours of the night — she she gave me advice on what to bring and what to leave behind while I dumped and reloaded my suitcase umpteen times.  In a quiet moment while I was in my head debating whether to shed the extra shoes that matched and looked cute but were really just extra weight, she whispered — “Hey Kath…”  She’s the only one who calls me that on a regular basis so it wakes up mother love inside me.  I could tell by her tone that she didn’t want me to give her my ears but also my heart.  I looked at her sitting on the tiny yellow plastic Big Bird chair half in the house and half out on the porch where she has watched life go by every afternoon since 1974 saying hi to every animal that passes — by name…  “Kath… promise me you won’t pet the lions.”  Before you dismiss that as a joke, you need to know something about my mom — she was serious.  Dead serious.  And not because she’s crazy either.  But because nobody knows you better than your mama!  She knows that my love of animals has led me into some rather unfortunate circumstances — including one as a child with a lion named Poo.

The moment had depth plumbed by the knowledge of how much she had restrained herself from sharing her worry with me.  I knew how hard it was going to be for her not to worry in the middle of Ebola and places unreachable by reasonable means.  And, more than any of it, I knew I’d feel exactly the same way about my cub.  So, I got wet eyed.  Nodded.  And vowed:  “I won’t mommy. I promise.  I won’t.”  And I meant it when I said it!  Really I did.  So please note that the picture above does not involve any form of hand to hand contact.  It was purely a friendly game of tug of war at a lion cub rescue in Johannesburg.  And I take the 5th on the rest of the pics in that series, except to say, it didn’t include this guy below.

lion-yawn-2-w-logo

As I slowly unravel my adventure with fear and work to understand the root of it in my life, I know a few foundational things worth repeating.  Some fear is good.  Look at this guy’s teeth for goodness sakes. Sheesh!  Be afraid of this guy’s power.   Respect it.  Take proper precautions.  But whatever you do, don’t skip the safari.  Don’t give up the opportunity to get close enough to gaze at his magnificence and beauty.  To marvel at his ways.  Don’t stay so far away from awe-so-me moments, even scary callings, that you clog up the opportunity for awe.

Life is an AWE-SO-ME experience — a word that is said with less bravado and with more of a breathless question…  awe, so me?  Like David who questions the great AWE…  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?  Can you hear it?  Can you hear David’s heart.  Hey maker of all things that bring AWE…  so me?

AWE God, SO You did that for ME?

AWE God, SO You made that for ME?

AWE God, SO You love ME?

AWE-SO-ME God?

Yes you!  He wants to fill us with His awe and wonder.  But fear?   It wants to move you away from AWE.  It scoots you back a few inches at a time.  Makes you so afraid you retreat just a little bit.  Intimidates you into thinking there is danger where there is not. It nudges you off the safari to the glass enclosure at the zoo or the video play back or the magazine expose. It makes you a spectator more than a participant.  It steals your joy.  If you’re not careful, it will steal your life.  It has taken a large part of mine.

Sitting in the presence of a roaring lion, I could feel scripture’s admonition about the nature of evil — like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  I don’t think I could feel the power in that verse more than I did sitting in front of that open mouthed lion.  Awe God, that’s a magnificent description of the power of fear over a life.  It devours opportunities, moments, options, possibilities.  It puts you on the side lines.  It diminishes awe.  It answers the question AWE-SO-ME? with a growl rather than the embrace of a lifetime.

I don’t think I really knew how serious my mom was about her request — don’t pet the lions — until I got home.  I scheduled my trip so that I could spent the night with her before heading back to my den.  We were talking about the trip, looking at pictures, laughing about the things I struggled to take out of my suitcase, and she says…  “Hey Kath, I didn’t want to show you this until you got home because I didn’t want you to get any crazy ideas.  But now I’d like you to watch it because…  I love it so much and I know you’ll love it because it involves a lion.”   It was a 1 minute video called The Hug of the Century about a lion who is reunited with a person who rescued him as a cub.  This is a hyperlink, so you can click here to watch it:   http://www.vitality101.com/Fun/lion-kisses-rescuer  I dare you to watch this and not be totally overcome with a craving to be received this way.

lion-sleepingI laughed and wept and gave my mom the hug of a lifetime after watching it.  I won’t spoil the surprise, but I’ll say this.  This is a glorious picture of what it feels like to be rescued.  To know that we don’t have to be afraid.  To know that the slightest turn toward rescue will be met with the embrace of a lifetime, not a growl or a bite.  To know that rescue brings rest.

So mom, I guess my response to your question would be a little different today.   As I slow down to wrestle through this question of fear, I guess I’d have to promise not to pet the wrong lion.  Not to pet the lion that devours but to pet the Lion of Judah.  The one who rescues.  The one who saves.

I love you mom.  Kath

Tick Eaters, Africa 2014 Copyright Kat Silverglate

Tick Eaters, Africa 2014 Copyright Kat Silverglate

I don’t know where to start with Africa.   It almost seems like I’ll do it injustice if I don’t start with something hugely magnificent like the picture of the elephants charging our jeep or the iconic shot of Soweto or the penguins on Boulder Beach.  I know! Penguins?  In Africa?  Really? Yep!  Really.  Lots of them.  I had no idea either.  The truth is, there are so many visually stunning things to see in Africa that it almost doesn’t matter where one starts with pictures.  We all feel like pros when we’re sitting in front of a water buffalo covered with brightly colored tick eaters clicking our shutters away.  Even a simple i-phone shot is great when you’re sitting in front of something you don’t see every day in suburban America.

No, I’m not talking about where to start with pictures.  Pictures and exhibits and books will be a second-lived amazing adventure without the fear of malaria or the avoidance of ice cubes and local water.  Pictures are easy because they tell a part of a story that words can never tell.   But, thankfully, they don’t tell the whole story. God gave the privilege of story telling to people. People tell stories.  With words that fill a place that pictures can’t fill.  It’s the marriage of the two that, well, makes me love the fact that God gave us breath and breath forms words and words edify and magnify and make bigger the things that make our hearts go pitter-pat or our minds go hmmmm? or our souls feel whole.

So, after ample time for reflection, I think the best place to start with Africa is with… skin.  I’m going to start today with skin.

Before I left, a friend posted something on my Facebook page that I thought about a million times before, during and after my trip — Africa gets under your skin.   I really didn’t know what she meant.  But I do now.

When we boarded the longest leg of the flight and knew that we were going to be captive for close to 16 hours in a long cylindrical pressurized tube with 250 strangers, that got under my skin.  It was like a freckle that you see on the surface but goes deep under the skin — a freckle of fear.   When the Ebola story developed gradually over the months and weeks after I made my non refundable reservations, well that certainly got under my skin.  It was like a varicose vein of angst.  South Africa is far far away from the region where the epidemic is happening in West Africa, but still, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit, it got that fear thing going under my skin. When people gave me the “what, have you lost your ever-loving-mind” look every time I said I was going to another hemisphere without my husband, that got under my skin.  It was like the melasma in pregnancy — slight discoloration in patches on the face that cause people to gawk and stare and lean toward judgmental thoughts that they really don’t want to have but can’t help.  Part of the trip was a gift from a childhood mentor who changed my diapers when I was 2 and treated me and my sisters like the children she never had — Kathy Rymer.  Who gets to do something like this?   I’ll be absorbing that for a lifetime.  When I got home and told people I had just been to Africa and they backed away or urgently said — WHERE???? — that got under my skin.  It was like the psoriasis on my knees — unattractive for sure, but harmless medically. When people started to share their adverse reactions to malaria pills, that got under my skin.  Not because I wasn’t grateful for the medical information, I was.  In fact, I ended up leaving them at home.  [it was winter in Africa!  Too cold for the little buggers].  No, it got under my skin because the thing that I discovered most about myself and others who have never been to Africa is that fear is the most prominent emotion that rises under the skin when you think about the place.

So my story about Africa is about some healing that happened under my skin.  Healing from a low din of fear.  An affliction that haunts many.  And has haunted me much of my adult life.  Won’t you come with me to Africa and shed some stuff that might not belong under your skin?  I’m learning, slowly, that it doesn’t belong under mine.

Welcome to the Africa Series…

 

They let you know.

Everybody says the same thing.  They let you know when they’re ready.

Ours has let us know, but not because he’s crawled into a corner and refused to come out, or becImageause he’s stopped eating or because he’s moaning in pain.  Gator still ‘wolfs’ down his food and pretends like he hasn’t eaten so he can get a few extra treats.  He wags his tail when we come in the room and he follows us around like a fluffy white shadow, craving fellowship every minute he is awake.  And when he sleeps during the day, it is at our feet in the office where we work, under the dining room table where we dine, or on the rug beneath the couch where we read.  Wherever we stop moving for a microsecond, he plops down and hangs with us until we are ready to move again.   You’d have to be heartless to miss that those signs seem to scream — I’M NOT READY!

Yet, other signs abound.  Nobody gets to 101.5 in dog years and still romps like a pup.  He’s suffering the oh-so-worth-it consequences of a joyously used-up body.  Gator has run the trails at Markham Park beside the big dog Spencer while he mountain-biked.  He’s trained for marathons and done morning runs at 0’dark thirty with me.  He’s done the “three mile” course around Weston hundreds of times as we processed life together as a family.  He’s climbed mountains at Riverbend, hiked trails in North Carolina, crashed ocean waves in Atlantic Beach, forged lakes and rivers, and he’s consumed as much pool water as he’s floated in at the only home he’s ever known – 365 Alexandra Circle.  He’s chased ducks and squirrels and birds and deer.  He has a steel plate in his knee [blown out ACL – probably too much running] and has survived the loss of his spleen and part of his liver to cancer [two years ago].  He’s even been to Disney World, church, little league games and one major league baseball game [Go Marlins Bark-in-the-Park Program].   There is simply no question about it.  This dog is sliding into home all used up yelling woo-hoo, wasn’t that amazing!  I’d keep doin’ it if this damn ole furry suit would cooperate.  He’s leaving it all on the field, not in the confines of the kennel or the false safety of the covered porch.  He has lived fully and joyously and his spirit, in many ways, still seems willing, but his body is weak.

As I write this he’s breathing shallowly and fast and trying to recover from the short walk outside to say farewell to the neighbors.  His back legs give out regularly, so we pick him up and he goes as far he can manage and then we prop him up again.  He smiles the way labs do.  The way Gator does.  And he keeps going a few more yards and then sits like a toddler with short stubbies that don’t fully support or cooperate with the will in his body to walk.   Sometimes Spencer carries him home when his gams [my mom’s word for legs] won’t carry him any further.  Gator weighs 90+ pounds, so it makes me cry every time he does it.  Watching Spencer’s legs become Gator’s long enough to get him home – it’s profoundly beautiful.  Gator just pants and smiles.  He’s a really grateful dog.  He always has been.

Gator Silverglate, the son of pure breeds Kenyon’s White Pearl and Bubba’s Best Choice, was born on December 14, 1999 in Minnesota.  He is a yellow lab that never turned yellow.  Like his mother, he is white as an angel with a shade of pearl.  We have never been able to go very far in public without someone or another stopping and asking, “What kind of dog is that?  He’s beautiful.” Gator arrived in the Silverglate home in the year 2000 just prior to Cameron’s fifth birthday.   An only child, Cam had been begging for a brother for quite some time.  Unable to physically bear one without fur, we did what people do when they are deciding whether to do the dog thing.  We applied logic to every conceivable concern we had in our award winning ‘let’s be responsible adults’ role…

  1. It will cost a boat load of money.  Vet bills.  Dog Food.  Training.  Boarding.  Insurance.  Surgery.  Tennis Balls.  Babies [our word for stuffed animals which dogs like Gator rip apart in nano-seconds but owners keep buying at $14.99 a pop because of the utter joy it gives their ward].  No, financially it didn’t make any sense.
  1. It will limit our freedom.  We can’t just leave for extended hours at a time.  The dog will tie us to the house.  If we are out having fun, we’ll have to rush home to feed and walk the dog.  If we want to go away and it isn’t a place the dog can go, we’ll have to board him or have someone stay here.  No, practically it didn’t make any sense.
  2. It will affect our house.  Dogs shed.  They slobber.  They chew.  They leak.  They need their anal glands expressed when they get infected [it’s gross, but true].  They throw up when they don’t feel well.  No, hygienically and cosmetically, it didn’t make any sense.
  1. It will affect our family and friends.  Spencer’s brother is allergic to dogs.  He can’t stay at our house any more.  We have friends who are allergic to dogs.  They can’t come to our house any more.  Relationally, it didn’t make any sense.  At least not in those relationships.
  1. They rip your heart out when they die.   We had seen Old Yeller.  Marley and Me.  Lassie.   Who wants to go through that pain?  No, it didn’t make sense emotionally.
  1. And, and, and…

Well, we are lawyers, so we won’t bore you with the rest of the list.  We filled pages and hours with the rational cons of this decision while Cameron, the five year old, looked at us like we were heartless nuts.  “Can’t you see this dog people?  He’s amazing.  How can we live without this dog?”

To some extent, that made balancing the pros irrelevant.  “Pleeezzzeeee Mommy and Daddy.  Pleeezzeee.  I promise I’ll…”  That’s pretty hard to resist when you have a kid like Cameron.  And to the extent the begging could be resisted [purely theoretical for us], the pros to getting a dog seemed obvious, or so we thought at the time.  And so, as history will tell, we did exactly what logical people sometimes do.  We threw logic out the window.  We did what parents of little five year old boys often do.  We listened to his heart.  And we did what humans probably don’t do often enough.  We let one of God’s most beautiful creatures look beyond our eyes to our souls and communicate to us in a way only pets can…  “God made me just for you.  Just for YOUR family.  I am a Silverglate and you don’t even know how much yet.”   Certain we were in way over our heads, we said yes to Gator and brought him home to ‘the Circle.’

The day he arrived, the Circle People [our clever name for our hood] surrounded Gator and our whole family and welcomed the newest member.  They brought the dogs and the kids and leashes and treats and tennis balls.  And we all sat on the stoop of our house and… well, we began.  We began an incredible journey that unfathomably will end today.  My neighbor Arlette who moved last year drove from Aventura this morning just so she could complete the bookends of the journey with us.  Through slobbery tears I asked her: “Do you remember what you said to me the day we got Gator?  You said, ‘Gator has no idea what a mitzvah he is walking into.  Do you know what a mitzvah is Kat?’”  We stood on the street while Gator panted and experienced that mixture of laughter and grief that strangely heals.  I’ll never forget your irrational act of love today Arlette.  You were God’s arms this morning.

Gaby, the only dog lover I know that outranks my mother in radical love of all things canine, called for permission to come weep with us.  She was already warmed up.  She had been on the phone with Arlette.  I love you Gaby.  You were God’s shoulder today.  I’ll wash the shirt.  Don’t worry.  I promise.  Mima, the guardian of all Circle dogs and dog sitter to the ordinary folks, bent over Gator and wept last Friday.  Did I mention that we were going to do this last Friday and chickened out?  As she wept she said [to Gator], “Thank you for being my friend.  You have been such a great friend.  Thank you for loving me so well.”  I had to walk away.  I can’t even type this without salty tears wetting my arid grief.   Mima, you’ve been God’s assistant since the day we started this journey.  What a servant’s heart you have.  You were a friend of God’s on Friday.  We love you.  Dee, the new owner of Arlette’s house, left flowers and wine on the stoop with a beautiful card after weeping with me last Friday before the chickens started clucking so loudly in our ears that we folded like a house of cards.   Thank you Dee.  I can tell we are going to be fast friends.  The Etkins did what the Etkins do so well.  They acted like Gator.  Offering a quiet steady willing presence that in and of itself gives comfort and peace.  You were God’s blanket today.  We are so grateful.

My mom…  don’t get me started on my mom.  I don’t have enough keystrokes for my mom.  She gets it because she has gladly slept on the floor countless times because Gator was hogging the bed.  You’re crazy wonderful mom.  My sisters, no words.  Small group sisters and brothers, friends, co-workers would have physically climbed through cyberspace to hug us if that was possible.  Gator has touched many lives, has been the subject of high school presidential posters, speeches, sermons, he’s even appeared in a book.  But mostly, he’s touched us.

From kinder to college, he followed Cameron Blake Silverglate around.  He followed him from roller blades to hiking boots.  From drum lessons to baseball practice.  From mommy and me to the SAT’s.  Gator Silverglate was there every day when Cam left for school and he was wagging his tail every day when Cameron came home.  Today, he was smiling and panting as Cameron said his good bye on a Skype line from the Capitol building in DC.  You’re a great brother Cam.  The best.  I wish we could hug you.  Ache.  Pant.  Weep.  Breathe.

As I write this, the vet is on her way to our house.   Gator is lying on my office floor where he has been while I’ve edited every picture, written every article, every blog post, every chapter, every sermon, every letter.  I want to write this while he is here.  At least as much as I can.  I don’t know how to do it any other way.   Gator has been a part of my images and words for 14.5 years.  Who has the patience for that?  He has taken me for walks when I’ve been frustrated or bored.  He’s taken me out to play when I’ve been too serious.  He’s greeted my guests.  Kissed me good night.  Woken me faithfully at the crack of dawn to pee.  Reminded me to eat.  Shared my deepest pain and my highest joys.

They let you know.

Everybody says the same thing.  They let you know when they are ready.

But… that doesn’t quite answer the question that’s been burning in my soul since Friday.  Who let’s the guardian of these innocent creatures know when we are ready to dispense mercy like God?  Who does that?

On Friday we made an appointment to have the vet come to our home.  We knew Gator was ready.  But we weren’t.   So, we cancelled and went to another vet to get a crater of pain pills, anti inflammatory meds and other various and sundry items to get him through the days we needed to know that it was the right time for us.  As I stood at the cashier paying for the stash, I heard a dog behind me coughing.  I figured he was there because he had a bad cold.  It sounded like the croup.  Like an indistinguishable mixture of bark and cough.  I glanced down to see the dog and then looked up at the owner.  She was about my age and she had red swollen eyes.  Tears were streaming down her cheeks.  “He has a mass in his throat and there is nothing they can do.  I thought it was a cold.  He’s 15.”  I really didn’t know what to do other than wrap my arms around her and say, “I’m so sorry. I’m so so sorry.”  We wept while the dog coughed and the cashier impatiently tapped her pen waiting for me to sign for the drugs.  I didn’t care.  Maybe Gator was alive a few more days so I could stand in the lobby of the vet and sling snot with a total stranger.

I told her about Gator and why I was there.  Told her we just weren’t ready.  She pulled away and she said with the most tender voice you can imagine, “you’ll know.  He’ll let you know.”   I think she meant Gator but I heard something very different in my Spirit.  I heard He with a capital H.

This morning as we lay on the floor with Gator while he breathed shallow breaths, Spencer read from the Scriptures.

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.”  And it was so.  God made… all the creatures that move along the ground… and God saw that it was good.

I gazed down at the white angelic ground crawling ball of fur in front of me and nodded while I rocked.  Yes, Lord, it is so very good what you made.  This creature.   He has been so very very good.  Spencer’s voice cracked.  He pressed on…

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.  God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over…  every living creature that moves on the ground…  to all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give…  Gen 1:24-30 [excerpts].

It was the breath of life part that got to me as I listened to Gator’s shallow pattern.  Rule over them I heard as my tears saturated his fur.  In the image of God I heard.  Rule like God would rule over this creature with the breath of life in it?  Dispense mercy as God would dispense it?  Decide when it is time, just as God decides with us?  Be worthy of this creature’s trust even judging the merciful day and hour of his death?  Really God?  Really?  I don’t like that part.

It is the profoundest trust to be given the job of merciful ruler.  Dogs come into our lives looking to us as we are meant to look to God.  With total and complete trust.   With utter dependence.  Even unto death.  They follow us from room to room wondering what we are doing and why we are doing it.  They wonder what we think or why we don’t do things that they might do.  They rely on us for food, shelter, immunizations, toys, everything.  Not just the provision of it, but the right amounts of it.  They cling to us in need.  They crave our presence and they want, more than anything, to feel our pleasure.  It profoundly fills them with satisfaction when we bend and affirm with simple life giving words, “good boy.  What a good boy.  Good good boy.”  In essence we say what God said before the fall when death and pain entered the world, what I made is good!  Very very good.  They trust us to rule, not just with mercy and love but with justice.  To vindicate them when others hurt them or judge them.  To sacrifice for them when they don’t realize they can’t do it on their own.  And to rescue them when they are in danger.

Gator lay quietly on the office floor as we read the psalms.  He lay quietly as the vet came and sat with us while we wept and sang.  He lay quietly as Spencer asked me if I was ready.  But when I said yes, Gator lifted his head off the wooden floor, looked us straight in the eyes, sniffed our wet salty faces and then laid his head, one last time, down to rest in total and complete trust.  He had trusted us for 14.5 years to rule with mercy and justice.  And he was trusting us now to make a decision he could not make.

Even unto death, Gator is teaching us wildly profound lessons.  I think God wants us to trust Him like Gator trusted us his whole life.  Like Gator trusted us even unto death.  He wants us to know, that even unto death, He has our best interests at the forefront of His heart.  He knows the time and the hour of our earthly span and He knows what it feels like to love someone so profoundly that you would die for them in a heartbeat because you just can’t stand the thought of being separated from them, even for a second.  He knows, because that’s what He did on the cross.  He wants us to have peace that exceeds earthly understanding, like this awesome creature had today on the hard wood floor with the soft-hearted image bearers dispensing mercy with an ache and a simple prayer – Lord have mercy on us.

He also knows that this kind of peace comes when we know and trust our Provider because we have spent every waking hour in His presence seeking to know Him, longing to hear His voice, panting for His praise, worshiping His great power, thanking Him for his unwarranted provision.  When we long for what pleases Him, we follow Him wondering what He thinks and how He loves.  When we follow, we come to trust it.  And when we finally fall into a pattern of only wanting to move when He moves and stay when He stays, we trust easily, rest peacefully and fear not as we lay our heads down for our last earthy breath.

So Arlette.  I think I finally have an answer for you.  Yes, I know what Mitzvah means.  But I think it is slightly different than what you meant that day.  I think we had it backwards.  We had no idea what a blessing God was giving us that February Y2K.  What a mitzvah.  What a blessing.  Thank you Lord for Gator Silverglate.  What you made was indeed good.  Very very good.  Into your loving hands, we release him back to you.  Amen.

The Sun ‘ll Come Up Tomorrow

Posted: November 7, 2013 in blog post
sun-comes-up

Taken this summer on the road to Haleakala

They said it would.  Everybody said it would.  Oh, they didn’t use those exact words, but that was the gist of the message.  The sun ‘ill come up tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar, come what may…  It always does, doesn’t it?

It’s taken me a long time to write this third installment in the Secondary Labor Series.  For those coming on board just now wondering what the heck secondary labor is, don’t worry.  I made the term up to describe the feeling moms have as they prepare to birth their kids out of their arms and into the world.  While this is the third in a trilogy on the Empty Nest experience, like the others, it has its own stand-alone nugget.  So feel free to pause and take them in order or to plow on with this one.

This installment has been delayed because I’ve been…well, waiting for the other shoe to drop. To wake up wrought with angst because my chicken isn’t here or to find myself crying for no apparent reason in the grocery isle.  But, I’m surprised to report, it hasn’t happened…  Have I processed?  Yes.  Sorted?  You betcha!  Wished I could climb through the phone to hug him a time or two?  Don’t doubt it for a second.  But the thud of the cement laden shoe?  It hasn’t happened…  And I’m not even going to add the word ‘yet’ to that last sentence, even though I said it out loud while I was typing those three dots.

What I have experienced has been some kind of alternative adjustment disorder — the technical psychological term for trouble coping with major life changes.  I say alternative, because my diagnosis has been more akin to an adjustment order.  Like a background orchestra is playing behind my life at weird moments inviting me to notice a new order being born around me.  My description of this experience owes its inspiration to my Jenny.

Jenny, like a daughter to me and young enough to be mine, was in the middle of a major move across multiple states with her two little girls and husband as I moved my son four states away. One of my transition confidants, she bubbled over with delight one day on the phone after attending a lecture on transitions in her new hometown of Kentucky.  Her joy was so deep and her description so full, I felt as if I had attended the lecture myself.  It went from the speaker’s mouth to her heart to mine.  Don’t you love it when people grow out loud in real time?  Not waiting until it’s all perfect and polished and gussied up.  Just raw revelation spilling out of a newly seeded heart?

Anyway… The speaker was wildly visual, so he painted a word picture to capture the essence of the time just after the dreaded T has happened — major life transition.  He told her to think of her life planted in the middle of an ice rink.  Yep, you read that right.  Ice rink as in ice hockey, as in Panthers, as in controlled frozen tundra.  Imagine, the ice is frozen around the base of your couch, your desk, your refrigerator, your routines, your friendships, your relationships. The manager of the ice rink has decided to turn up the temperature in the arena for a month or so. All the ice holding your life in place is going to melt loosening its hold on your stuff and all your patterns.  But don’t panic as you imagine this.  You have a rare and wonderful opportunity during the thaw. You’ll have a few months to rearrange your life however you wish.  After that, the manager will turn the temperature down again and the ice will freeze around your new order holding it in place until it’s time for another transition.

It was the perfect artsy analogy for my picture loving mind to grasp as I returned home to the ’empty nest.’  Expecting the orchestra to play an ominous da da daaaa daily when I arrived to notice the things missing since my son left, I heard quite a different song.  It was more like the one in a romantic comedy when things are about to get adventurous.  Hearing that music more and more, I started to question the furniture of my life.  To see the possibilities in the new order. I started to ask bigger questions like, how much of what I do is patterned around the season that has just ended?  How much of this do I continue to do because of past seasons? Some patterns just carry over and over and over with little thought as to why, don’t they?  What do I continue because I’ve always moved this way? What if I really had the freedom to create whatever pattern I wanted in my life?  What would that look like?  What if I made it an adventure and thought wildly outside the box?  What if I moved things around and around and around until I found a pattern that was wonderfully fulfilling? What if I wasn’t so anxious for the ice to freeze around it again?  What if I gave myself permission to slosh around in the liquid arena and enjoy moving furniture?  What if?

All I can say is…   ya’ll pray for Spencer.  He arrived home one evening last week to find most of the furniture in our house reconfigured.  Rug from the living room in the bedroom, chairs from the patio in the master bedroom, lamp from the family room God knows where…  He loved it.  Most of it.  And so did I.  Oddly, It feels like an entirely new house, and our taxes didn’t even go up!  This has been a wonderfully revealing exercise and I gotta say, I’m not ready for the thermostat to change quite yet.  I’m still smack dab in the middle of transition soup and I’m starting to like the daring re-constructionist attitude that has invaded our spirit.  It’s as if someone needed to give us permission to move furniture in our very own lives!  Oh Jenny, do you have any idea what your little bubbly fit birthed in the Silverglates?  Thank you for sharing that speaker’s wisdom.  Truly, wisdom knows no formulaic delivery system, no age ceiling and definitely, no floor.  You know it when you hear it because it penetrates to the fleshy portions of your system and it transforms something in your heart causing you to move differently without thinking.  I can’t imagine missing this experience.

I’ve realized a few important things as I’ve sloshed around my life in galoshes.  Mostly, I’ve started to wonder about the manager of that little thermostat.  Who gets to decide what to freeze and when to freeze it?  God certainly allows a great many things that thaw the ice of life and move us — some of them wonderful, like a pregnancy or a new job, and some of them really difficult, like a death or an illness or the loss of a job. Often we wait for these major life events to evaluate our patterns.  To move things around.  Forced adjustments really leave us no choice, do they?  But do we have to wait for these monumental T’s?

Part of me sees more clearly that God isn’t a God who freezes as much as we are a people who freeze. We become entrenched and set in our ways.  Filled with “should’s” and “have to’s” instead of “get to’s” and “let’s do it’s!”  Frozen in something translucent like ice that holds us in patterns that are falsely hemmed-in.  Keeping us from the joy of growing and living all-out, full-throttle, why-not lives. God is fantastically mobile.  Always transforming.  Always creating.  Always restoring.   Always waking us up to the question, will you follow Me today!  Will you arrange your pattern around Me and where I’m going?  Will you notice Me, delight in Me, go when I go, stay when I stay?  Will you submit to the rhythm of My Spirit?

I realize that patterns are important.  That we need them.  That there is a great reduction in chaos and waste and inefficiency when patterns are set and healthy.  But do our set patterns have frosty rigidity? Do they leave room for surprise?  For mystery?  For joy?  For the divine rhythm we can’t see but come to know?  Are we mismanaging our thermostats freezing things God never intended to be frozen?

I’m learning to enjoy the liquid summer of the glorious T.  To keep my hands off the thermostat. To wait to freeze something into the pattern of my life until it is apparent that freezing is both healthy and necessary, not a default setting that I imagine exists in the control box of life.

Spending time with Spencer, grocery shopping, making meals.  Set.  Healthy.  Good.  Paying bills, tending my business, writing papers, taking tests.  Set.  Healthy.  Good.  Meeting weekly with my small group, attending worship on Sunday, praying, calling my mom and my sisters. Set. Healthy.  Good.  There are so many good healthy things to set regularly in life. But set doesn’t mean frozen and it doesn’t mean boring or rote or rigid either.  I’m thinking differently about all of these things.  And about how I live in the space between the healthy items wisely set firmly in life’s rhythm.  I’m learning, you can keep a pattern and wildly transform how you move in it.  But more importantly, I’m embracing the truth that you can fill the space between the set things and adapt in the middle of the set things to the constant breath of heaven.

I don’t know what the next 50 years will offer.  What God will allow that changes my course — both the awesome and the difficult.   Heck, I don’t even know if I’ll get more than just today. That’s not my call. What I do know is I have a choice to leave the thermostat alone and to refuse to freeze things God never intended to be frozen.

And yes, just in case you were thinking it, Cameron still has a bedroom.  And no, reconstruction does not include plastic surgery… Yet!  :)  Happy thaw people.  You have permission to move!   Hallelujah and amen.

It’s OK to Miss the Snow

Posted: August 31, 2013 in blog post

I hadn’t thought about that day in years, but the pang of grief in his voice sent me back like a time traveler to third grade.  Not mine, my son’s.  The year when he felt his first loss.  Real loss.   Not a pet or a grandparent.  Not even a ball game or a position on a cherished team.   It was the year Cameron felt his first childhood season come abruptly to an end.

We, of course, had already seen countless mini-seasons begin and end in his eight short years of life.  Sleeping in the bassinet by our bed — that season ended about a month after we trusted the monitor tethered to his crib.   Hearing his every breath and peep somehow made it easy to accept the brevity of that season.

Then there was breastfeeding.   That one was substantially longer thanks to the What to Expect genre of books.  You don’t need to tell a Type-A first-time mother much more than one full year is ideal for immune system development and bonding.  Nearly 365 days later, we were done with that.

And while it ended pretty much on a single day, it wasn’t traumatic or harsh.  Instead it was more like the change in nature’s seasons — gradual, graceful and with plenty of time to adjust.  First with the introduction of cereal, and then with little bites of soft yummy treats that delighted his palate and made him crave the next thing.  The new thing.  The thing he needed more than the comfort of what he had.  Solid food.   Like most seasonal neophytes though, he clung to the fading phase as he stretched to grasp the emerging one.  When he needed comfort or got hurt or was tired, nursing represented more than a meal.  It was solace and love, hugs and nutrition in one nifty, available anytime package.  And then one spring day, it was time to move on.   Natural.  Gradual.  Healthy.  Done.

The season was over and a new one began.

Over and over this happened in rapid succession and with natural grace.  No more wrapping him up like a burrito to prevent him from scratching his face with his curious hands.  Or rolling up a blanket and wedging it in his side so he didn’t roll off the bed.  No more onesies or pj’s with footies.  No more playpen.  No more walker.   Farewell pampers, diaper genie, training potty, sippy cup.  No more bibs and plates with compartments to keep the peas from touching the mashed potatoes.  No more forks with nifty handles to make it easy for his tiny developing hands to grasp.

Crib to big boy bed.  Trike to training wheels to helmet and hot wheels bike.  Green Eggs and Ham to Bob Books to Easy Readers.  Mommy and Me to Pre-K to Kinder.   Barney, Blues Clues, Little Bear, Discovery Channel.  The seasons had been changing with rapid and astounding speed, but to Cameron, it was just one big season.  Life.  Until third grade, that is.  And then…

And then, one day, out of the blue, he woke up with an ache in his heart.  A grief he couldn’t shake and didn’t quite understand.

“What’s wrong Buddy?”

“Things aren’t the same, Mom.  I don’t like it that things aren’t the same.”

“What things?”

“We don’t do street parties anymore or play hockey with all the neighbors.  I miss that.”

“Well Cam, you’re the youngest boy on the street and the older boys are moving on to the next stage of life.  They are doing things that bigger boys do.  Things you’ll be doing soon. ”

“But I miss it Mom.  I want it to be the same as it was.  It’s never going to be the same, is it Mom?”

“No, Buddy, it won’t.   It will be different.  But the new things can’t happen unless you leave some of the old ones behind.  It’s a season.  Like winter changing into spring.  You can’t keep the snow and have the flowers too.  Both are good.  Just different good.”

It was the kind of conversation that didn’t seem to soothe in the moment.  The kind that goes the way of the farmer’s seed – slung into the soil with a hope and a prayer that it will be watered by other farmers, warmed by the sun and pop when the time is right.  And pop it did.

A decade later, sitting in the parking lot of the Broward Mall, that conversation resurfaced as Cameron once again felt the ache that melting snow brings.  We had been preparing for the spring of his adult life — the big move to Wake Forest University.  Busy every waking second.  Running from clothing stores, to license bureaus, to Bed Bath and Beyond and back again trying to imagine the things he’d need for the cell block sized room that would become his new home.

As we approached the last few items on the list, we both came to the unspoken, uncomfortable conclusion that we’d forgotten something.  Something important.  Funny how staying madly busy deceives us into thinking that emotions can be crowded off the plate of preparation.  Well, they can’t.  Emotions are smarter, craftier and more determined than all our willpower put together.  Bury them and they’ll demand an audience at the least convenient time.  And they did.  Right there in a parking lot on a Wednesday afternoon in August.

“It’s never gonna be the same, is it Mom?”

My mother heart contracted with the pain of labor as I struggled to breathe through the words I knew we needed to share.

“No Buddy, it won’t.”

Tears filled both our eyes and choked off the rest of my sentence.  He kept going like a penitent before a priest.

“I think I realized this morning when we were annoyed with each other about where to go next that it doesn’t matter what we do at this point.  It just matters that we savor these last few days together cuz it’s never gonna be the same.”

All I could do at that point was nod with closed eyes and pray for composure.

When my voice was steady enough to speak again, I plowed on, “Do you remember that day in third grade when you were sad that the neighbors didn’t play street hockey anymore?”

“Like it was yesterday,” he said.  “And I know what you’re gonna say.  This is the end of a season.  I know.  It’s natural.  I know.”

“I’ve been thinking.  There’s more to the seasons thing than we’ve explored together,” I responded.   “More than the fact that one ends and another begins.”

“OK?”

“Do you remember our first winter ski trip?  When you did all those snow things for the first time?  First snowball?  Standing on skis?  Flying in a tube down a hill?  Riding a lift and looking down at the tops of the trees?”

“How could I forget?  It was awesome.”

“I’ve been thinking about how distorted our view must be of seasons because we don’t really have them in Florida.  We go and visit them on ski trips and vacations.  So, to us, they begin and end very abruptly and artificially.  We go from the snow to the spring in the length of a plane ride.   The snow is gone as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign dings off at 30,000 feet and the Bougainvilleas are already blooming a few hours later when we land in sunny Florida.  But that isn’t how it really works.  God designed seasons to be much more gentle.”

“Gradual you mean?”

“Yep.  The snow doesn’t just disappear one day.  It gets icy and starts to melt and isn’t so fun to ski on anymore.  But even while that’s happening, little sprigs of grass pop up in the slush.  Just when it seems like the mud has ruined all the beauty of winter, the blossoms pop up in the middle of the mess.  It’s like they are screaming, look at me!  Look at me!  Look at what’s ahead.  Isn’t it beautiful!  They are both happening at the same time — one season is coming to an end while another is beginning.  The overlap has got to be intentional.   It’s got to be divine.  It’s not sudden or harsh.  It’s gentle.  Surely this is God’s way of giving us time to adjust.   I think He knows that we need to see remnants of snow while we’re excited about the newness of spring.  It’s really brilliant when you think about it.”

Cameron just sat there quietly for a few minutes letting it all soak in and then, in a nanosecond, transformed into the parent.  Touching my arm softly and looking compassionately in my eyes he whispered in such a fatherly tone to his now melted mother.  “But Mom, it’s ok to miss the snow.”

Not another word needed to be spoken.  It was done.  Summarized.  Nutshelled.  Zipdrived.  Condensed into the smallest necessary nugget of truth.  He didn’t know it at the time, but I had been reading a book about transitions to help me sort through the deluge of emotions that seemed to be hitting me faster than I could absorb.  He had just squished the whole book in one proverbial phrase — it’s OK to miss the snow.   If we don’t pause to take stock of the things that will never be the same and bid them a proper farewell, it makes embracing the new season that much harder.  Indeed, it tempts us to forever look back.  Seasons do bring newness, but they also bear witness to the things that are complete.  They bear witness to loss.   Necessary loss, yes.  But loss, nevertheless.

I’ve often wondered why Solomon, Scripture’s wisest human, says in Ecclesiastes that the end of a thing is better than the beginning.  My logical mind says the exact opposite.  Beginnings are filled with hope and possibility.  Opportunity and expectation.  Idealism and determination.  But endings?  Endings just seem sad.  But Cameron, in one marvelously pithy phrase, was the farmer that watered the seed of Scripture that had been lodged deep in the soil of my heart all these years.  Indeed, endings are better than beginnings, because if you are standing at a finish line or at the end of a season, and you are grieving the parts that will never be the same, that means the snow was excellent that winter!  It may not have been perfect, and it may have iced over or melted a time or two, but there were some amazing runs, some heart stopping drops and some blind curves that opened into breathtaking vistas.

If you are deeply grieving the things that will never be the same, it means you didn’t just dream it, or plan it, or wonder if it would ever happen.  You went for it.  You started and you didn’t quit when it got hard.  You persevered when the odds were stacked against you.  You stared failure in the face and you told it how much bigger your God was than fear’s vapid threats.  You believed in things you couldn’t see.  And you climbed into God’s lap over and over again until the peace that exceeds understanding blanketed your soul.  You trusted when you didn’t understand why and you did the best you could when you didn’t know how.  As hard as you laughed, you cried, and as deeply as you doubted, you believed.  You messed up and got up and messed up again.  You forgave and you were forgiven.  You confessed and you encouraged and you stood in awe.

If you are grieving the things that will never be the same at the end of a hardy season, it means that you are holding fruit my friend.  And there isn’t much better in all of life than that.

Like my husband, I didn’t really know how I was gonna get through the last moments before we left our son four states away for the spring of his life.  But God did.  Turns out the induction ceremony at his college included an activity called rolling the quad.  The Class of 2017, surrounded by all the parents on the gorgeous lawn at Wake Forest University, covered the Maple trees with snow-white toilet paper, a tradition they will repeat every time the Demon Deacons win a game.  For everybody else, it was a welcome break from the emotion of separation at the end of a major season.  But for me, it was a winter wonderland wink from God who gave me one last beautiful glimpse of snow covered trees just before the final thaw of childhood.   Forever etched in my heart will be the image of my little boy melting into the puffy white Maples to start the spring of his life.

And yes, I will miss the snow.

But now, thanks to my son, I know that’s OK!

Thanks Buddy.

I love you, Mom