Saturday, June 27, 2015

Weep, Pray, Love.

I am heartbroken. I just want to weep before the Lord for all the pain I see around me. I asked for this – I prayed that God would break my heart for what breaks His – and I know this is just a very small taste of the pain He feels for His children. There is so much suffering – in my immediate surrounded there has been terrible tragedy – the death of a young child in an accident, the deterioration of my father with Alzheimer’s, teenagers struggling with depression & self-harm. Cancer, incest, abuse, addiction and racism. I spent last weekend with Indigenous people desperately seeking reconciliation, mourning their murdered and missing sisters. So many broken hearts that need mending.

Casting the circle wider, our whole world is in pain. War and persecution, famine and drought, slavery and sex trafficking. So much evil. So much horror.

There are so many issues to address, wrongs to right, rants to rage, and prayers to cry.  There is the failing of our churches, families, schools, social services, governments, our First World greed, over-consumption, and apathy, our arrogance, our hate, our indifference. There is so much pain.

With all this pain we need hope. With all this pain we seek to understand.

I want to help, to hold on, to lift up, to love.

But do I need to understand?

“You don’t understand” whether spoken out loud or in my heart, was probably one of my top ten phrases as a teenager. We do seek to be understood, and that doesn’t change much as we get older. But what we truly need is to be loved. I truly believe that “Nobody understands me” is the heart’s cry of “nobody loves me.”

In reacting to someone in an emotional crisis, I think we generally fall into two camps – “I understand” or “I don’t understand.” When I am in the first group I feel compelled to explain to you why I understand your pain by sharing my own experience of pain. I essentially offload my own baggage, and don’t really help you carry your own. One day it might be helpful and healing to sit down with me and have a conversation about how I dealt with my particular loss, but as a first response I do not need to prove that have my own pain. I don't need to prove I’ve gone through a trial of my own.

Telling my story of pain does not help to validate your feelings. My advice may not be welcome. Every situation and person is unique.

A brave woman in my community has dealt with this as she comes to terms with the loss of her young son. She contrasts helpful people who lend support with those people who add to her “boulder of grief” with their own story of pain:

“It is very encouraging, like a handful of balloons, to tell me "so-and-so also experienced the loss of [insert person/relationship here], but this is how they got through it." It is the opposite to share details of accidents, deaths, and trauma, even if the intention is trying to be encouraging by comparing my situation with theirs. (Though how it is supposed to help me deal with my own grief by simply knowing others have experienced similar or "more horrific" losses, I am not certain.)

When I am on the “I don’t understand” side of things, I can’t relate to your experience – I haven’t had cancer, I haven’t lost a child, I am not a widow or a refugee. So I am afraid of saying the wrong thing, afraid of making things worse, so I avoid you. I assume I have nothing to offer and back away from you. I don’t get it, so I must not be qualified to offer up any help in your time of need. What on earth could I say to a woman whose husband cheated on her, or a mother who had a stillborn child? I have more questions than answers. I am afraid that my words would be hollow or inappropriate. I become awkward and distant. I don’t understand.

But my friends, God does not ask us to understand, He asks us to love. We’ve all gone through stuff and we have our own unique joys and pains. If I think I understand your pain, I need to love. One day there will be time for stories, time for questions, but today is the day to love. If I don’t think I understand your pain, I need to love. I may not have a clue about what you are experiencing, but God does, and God loves you. God knows each of us more than we can imagine. He knows the number of hairs on our heads. He knew us before we were formed in our mothers’ wombs. He created our DNA. He gave us our gifts and dreams. We need to celebrate & honour each other by listening to and loving each other.

You don’t have to prove that you understand, or wait until you think you understand. This is a broken world in need of blessing. Listen & love.  

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” John 13.34

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Thanksgiving and grieving

This morning I got the message, one of many I have been dreading. The police brought my dad home last night. He left the house at 2 a.m. and wandered the neighbourhood, knocking on doors. He didn’t know where he was or how to get home. Another milestone reached along the terrible path of Alzheimer’s disease. I can’t imagine the worry, and, as a typical caregiver would have, unfounded guilt that my mom must be feeling. Not a great way to start Thanksgiving Day.

As a day set aside to count our blessings, it can also serve to highlight our losses. As families gather and marvel at how the children have grown, we also notice how many of us have aged. Thanksgiving and Christmas were typically large affairs when I was a child, full of extended family. As my great-aunts fussed over how tall I was getting, I noticed how they were beginning to shrink. As we recounted shared memories over much food, I saw how the memories of my elders were fading. Once my Great-Grandad introduced himself to the woman sitting beside him at the table, unable to recognize that it was his daughter. A gentleman to the end. He was a wanderer too – he would somehow get past the nurses at the home, and they would later find him on the streets. Once he returned with two black eyes. When asked I’m sure he was convinced he had been “home” to Saskatchewan – he had left there some fifty years previous to live in B.C.

At least he had the happy form of dementia. I don’t know where my dad goes in his mind, but I am grateful he no longer remembers his own dad’s final years. His dementia was dark – he was selfish, moody, paranoid.  I’ve heard heartbreaking stories of people lashing out in confusion and rage at those who love them the most. And the slipping away of a loved one can happen in so many different ways. My parents tried to shelter me from the illnesses of my older relatives when I was young, but I knew. Great-Uncle Elliot always greeted his three nieces with, “Hi boys!”, and we threw our hands on our hips and protested, “We’re not boys, we’re girls!!” The year he simply said “Hi girls” we knew something was wrong. He died not long after. Great-Uncle Bill, another practical joker, left us in a similar way.

These were the relatives we only saw once or twice a year, and the changes are so much more pronounced that way. Unfortunately that’s how it is with my dad and me now. Living in different provinces, when I do see him the changes are so drastic. Gone is the grandpa who played ball and read books with his grandsons, helped in the garden, and talked politics and sports. I don’t know if my kids remember him that way or not. I must admit I have a harder and harder time seeing him as the hero of my childhood – the man who always put the worm on my hook, and taught me about birds and airplanes. The man who would defend my honour against any unsavoury seeming boy, secure my bedroom against any monster, and could open even the tightest of pickle jars.  There is a broken shell where that man used to be.

I want to throw my hands up in the air and say what on earth is the point of all this pain and suffering? What hope is there is a world where most of us end up dying in pain, and watching our loved ones do the same? Jesus Christ is the hope. He is the only hope for this broken world. He is the only way I can make sense of any of it. I pray for the peace of Christ to work in my dad’s heart and mind. But that part of his mind is long shut. Even before this disease started to overtake his brain, my dad was closed off to the idea of a loving God – he had been hurt by the church, and unfortunately didn’t know that the church sometimes has nothing to do with Jesus. But still I pray, that somewhere in all the deep confusion of dying synapses, God will heal those memories and Dad will find the love of Jesus.

So as I gather with my husband and boys this Thanksgiving, it is with mixed feelings that I remember all the family and friends I have shared this day with throughout the years – those celebrating in other places, and those gone on, as my Papa would say, to the “Happy Hunting Grounds.” And I pray that as you give thanks today, in the middle of your own pain and loss, you find the hope of the love of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God. 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Romans 15:13(NIV)

Friday, June 6, 2014

Look at Me!

My two close-encounters with the courts both happened in the summer of 1995. I was 21 years old. The first was because of an incident while living in Nelson, B.C. One winter Sunday night after a nice supper, my boyfriend, roommate and I decided to get dressed up. We didn’t have much money then, but we scrounged around for our thrift store best and decided to hit the town. Problem was, where do you go in a small town on a Sunday night? We had a friend who worked at the Subway downtown so we decided we would head down there to should him our fancy-ish clothes.
It was cold and pretty icy on the street. I was shivering in my little black dress and slipping around in my girly little shoes, when a car screeches to a stop beside us and a guy jumps out. He has crazy eyes. Crazy. He grabs my boyfriend and starts punching him. My roommate keeps walking, hoping to draw us away. More guys pile out of the car, but they just stand there watching. I start screaming, “Get off him! Stop it! Stop hitting him!” I scream at his friends, but they just shrug their shoulders and say there’s nothing they can do to stop him – we should just get out of there. So I keep yelling at this idiot to stop, angry that he won’t even turn around and look at me. So I shout “Look at me!! Look at me you coward! Look me in the eye!!” What’s he gonna do to a buck-o-five in a little black dress?
Crack. He punched me in the head. Twice. Then I fell down. Even though that bastard turned around to hit me, he didn’t look at me. And he didn’t say a word. Someone pulled me out of the way, then things seemed to break up. I don’t really remember how things happened next, but eventually he took off in the car and the three of us turned around and went home to put ice on our bruises.
The next day I had two black eyes. Maybe more purplish. I called the doctor in case I had a concussion or eye damage. I explained to the receptionist what happened, and she asked if he was in the house with me. What? I don’t even know who he is!   (There ended my naivety about domestic violence.) While we were waiting to go to the police station to place charges against this stranger, I was flipping through the local paper. When I opened to the sports section his face leapt out at me. Here, the day after he attacked me, he was featured in a two-page spread as a local hockey hero. While I read quotes about what a superstar and great guy he was, I nursed my bruises and wished I could tell the world what a loser he was, attacking a defenseless girl. I wanted to tell everyone what a coward he was, hitting someone half his size who he couldn’t even look in the eye.
I didn’t feel very hopeful when I entered the Nelson Police Station. Hockey pictures covered the wall. The officers listened to my statement and I told them I only knew who he was because of the paper. Turns out he had done the same thing to a few other folks that night- apparently he was in an alcohol fuelled rage - but no one else was pressing charges. I wanted him to pay – he had been drafted by the Chicago Wolves in the AHL, and I hoped an assault charge would keep him from being able to cross the border to play. I don’t know if it would have. I wanted to interfere with his career so he would have to acknowledge me, what he did. Be sorry? I don’t know. Accept responsibility.
I didn’t hear anything more about the case until I had moved up to Dawson City, Yukon for the summer. I got a message to call someone in Nelson – Justice Department, cop, lawyer, I can’t remember. They told me I needed to be in court in two days. I explained that I was way up north, hours from a major airport, and I that I hated to fly. I made arrangements to take time off work, take the bus to southern B.C., and testify against my attacker. The next day I got a call back saying there would be no trial. He paid a fine instead. I forget now if it was $200 or $400. Small potatoes for a hockey star. Small price to pay for randomly venting your anger on a stranger. Or is it?
I haven’t thought much about “J.R.” over the years, but getting the jury summons today made me think of him. So I googled him. He did go on to the AHL – and just about any other league besides the NHL, even in Scotland and France. He was a not-quite fourth-liner goon who changed teams more than he changed his socks. He highlighted in off-season hockey fight clubs like “Battle of the Hockey Enforcers” and “Hockey Gladiators” - title fights for cash and whatever glory you can scrape back up off the ice. He was, in a word, a loser. And that makes me feel a little bit better.
But he still hit me, while somehow managing to ignore the fact that I was a person, a soul.  When I do think of him I figure he must be a broken man – lost, angry, alone. And if I saw him today, yes, I would make him look me in the eye. I would tell him how awful what he did was.  And I would feel angry. And I would feel bitter. And I would feel self-righteous. But I would pray. Then I would look him in the eye and tell him I forgive him. Even if I didn’t really feel like it I would trust Jesus and forgive him.
So I guess I did just that.
And I'll probably have to do it again.