Stepping onto the Common Ground — Jayber Crow Discussion Group (5)

I’ve spent the past week reconnecting with my sister.
She lives in Alaska. I live in Maine.
She has one grown daughter, while I’ve spent the past 23 years living in a boys’ dormitory.
She has lovely nails and her wardrobe demonstrates an awareness of the comings and goings of  style. My hands and my clothing reveal that I have a big garden and are consistent with a life that is lived close to the ground.

For this week, my sister and I have stepped onto the common ground of a shared childhood, a common faith, and the glorious dance of genetic material that rendered her a soprano and me an alto. Geography, being deeply rooted in opposite extremes of the continent, has presented its challenges to our relationship, but isn’t it true that even those who share a zip code can struggle to find common ground?

Be a Conscientious Objector

The combined effects of war and grief formed the common ground of 1940’s-era Port William. When the indignity of a 4-F classification prevented Jayber from “sharing the fate” of his community through active military service, he “felt disgraced by [his] failure to be able to do what [he] did not want to do.”

In a world slowly being populated by special snowflakes who make much of their preferences and feel entitled somehow to special handling (I am not without guilt here), Jayber’s stance on the war effort is remarkable. He did not want to participate in the war, but . . .

“I had a conscientious objection to making an exception of myself.”

This is the kind of conscientious objector I long to be. By contrast, I have an uncanny ability to read the commandments of God and to apply them with skill to others — and then to find a loop hole that excuses my own disobedience.

Fear and Grief

Jayber joins C.S.Lewis in the observation that fear and grief are curiously linked.

From Chapter 1 of A Grief Observed:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid.”

And this from Jayber:

“There were many new things to be known and talked about, but nobody spoke of fear. And when grief began to come in and replace fear, the grieved, out of consideration for the fearful, did not speak of grief.”

In tragedy, we are forced to come to terms with seeing “everything as eligible to be lost.” Or, as dear Mat Feltner put it after his son Virgil was reported missing in action, “Everything that will shake has got to be shook.” We feel this as well, when the people and things we thought of as “permanent” begin to disappear. Even tragedies that come to us from a distance (Las Vegas, Puerto Rico) usher in their own brand of fear and grief. Our right response for banishing fear is the “reverence and awe” the writer of Hebrews recommends as we thank God for the reality of His unshakable kingdom.

For Worse — and for Still Worse

Jayber can’t seem to shake the feeling of being despised by Cecelia Overhold, and Wendell Berry gave Jayber an entire chapter to explore the weight of failure that surrounds the Overhold marriage. Oddly, the bachelor barber serves as a handy target for all Cecelia’s disappointment in her husband Ray.

And isn’t it interesting that in all the varied Membership of Port William, there are only two individuals who are painted with an entirely negative brush: Cecelia Overhold and Troy Chatham? Jayber’s resentment of Troy does not do him much credit, but, without giving anything away, I will defend Jayber by saying that events which are yet to come in future chapters have colored Jayber-the-Narrator’s memories of Troy. Our minds are tricky that way, for our knowledge of a person over time can throw a long shadow over what we remember about them from the past.

So, in spite of Jayber’s ambivalence about The War (and all wars) and his determination to come back to Jesus’ instruction to “love our enemies” (142-143), he finds this harder to live out with individuals than with theoretical enemies — who don’t rub him the wrong way in real life.

And so I find myself stepping onto common ground with our friend Jayber. I want to be hear the voice of Jesus saying, “Love your enemies,” and then choose to have “a conscientious objection to making an exception of myself.”

Questions to Ponder

What do you think of Jayber’s thoughts on Miss Gladdie’s grief? He describes Miss Gladdie as “the keeper and protector of the grief by which she cherished what she had lost.” There seems to be wisdom in this, particularly for those who want to hurry their way through a loss, to “get to the other side of it” so that life can return to “normal again.” Maybe it’s just my practical nature, but I enjoy thinking about grief as a means of cherishing, a way of saying, “This loss is worth this much sadness.”

On page 152, Jayber’s thoughts on the church are all tangled up with his strong reaction to Roy and Cecelia’s marriage, but there’s something of value in what he says about mis-uses of the church: as a venue for snubbing the “unworthy,” as a place of discomfort and ill-fitting piety, and as a “lion tamer’s chair.” (153) How’s your relationship with the local church? Does it inspire you to more faithful obedience? Have you walked through hard seasons with the church gathered?

Did you notice Jayber’s story-telling style changes on page 134 when he begins to share his Mattie memories? He goes into a very structured voice: “I will call back now and lay in a row some passages of my early knowledge of Mattie Keith . . .”  Coming where it does, it landed on my ears as a non sequitur. What does all this have to do with the words that comprise one of my favorite Jayber quotes?

“I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led — make of that what you will.”

I think that in making this connection here, Jayber is tipping his hand about his understanding of his own calling, but remember, he’s writing from the perspective of the future as a 72 year old man.

When I remember that the cloud and the fire led Israel into the wilderness, it helps me to view my own wandering path with a little more grace. And the truth is that sometimes we see the beauty and necessity of our pilgrimage best from the rear view mirror.

I look forward to reading your thoughts so be sure to share insights, blog posts, your response to the discussion questions, and stories from your own experience in the comment space below!

I’ll be here next Thursday (October 12) having read Chapters 15-17.

Here’s the schedule for future discussion topics:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion
OCTOBER 5……………………CHAPTERS 12-14
OCTOBER 12………………….CHAPTERS 15-17
OCTOBER 19………………….CHAPTERS 18-20
OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 2…………………CHAPTERS 24-26
NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32

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If You REALLY Want to Help those Who Grieve

We sat on the couch, side by side, but miles apart.  She had just lost her son in a tragic accident.  I had four living and healthy boys — and no words that could touch her loss.  In the weeks and months that followed, I wrote notes, shared Scripture verses, listened to her sadness, and showed up at her door bearing food, but never feeling confident that any of it held meaning, and often feeling as if I was missing the whole point.

Nancy Guthrie writes to bring clarity and a measure of confidence to people like me:  those of us who want to help and bring comfort to our grieving friends, but want to avoid saying all the wrong words and assuming things that are not true.  Her “research” for What Grieving People Wish You Knew was gritty and uninvited, and began on the day when her infant daughter Hope was diagnosed with a rare and fatal metabolic disorder.  Grief “barged through the door,” and Hope’s 199-day life was a day-by-day good bye that was all too short.

Certainly, this experience alone would qualify a well-known Bible teacher like Nancy to speak wisdom into the lives of those who grieve, but then, a year and a half after Hope’s death, Nancy discovered that she was, once again, pregnant with a baby who had the fatal syndrome and who also lived for about six months.  Working through all this sadness sharpened Nancy’s awareness that often, when Christians try to help those who have suffered losses, we mainly reveal that we just don’t “get it.”

In response, she conducted an online survey in which she asked grieving people for examples of what others said or did for them that proved to be helpful and meaningful. She shares many of these suggestions in her book, and they were truly a highlight, including thoughts as simple (and as obvious) as using the name of the deceased in casual conversation or sharing pictures and memories with family members.

Under the best of circumstances I’m not a great conversationalist, so it was a relief to me to hear the news that “it matters less what you say than that you say something.”  In fact, “even if you come up with the perfect thing to say (as if there is such a thing), it simply won’t fix the hurt or solve the problem of the people who are grieving.”  This is absolutely critical, and with that taken care of, Nancy goes on to provide additional insights:

  • Grieving is as unique as the individuals who grieve.  There is no one-size-fits-all comfort formula.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Don’t assume anything about their feelings, about the spiritual condition of the deceased, or that your own grief experience is comparable — or helpful to share.
  • Don’t feel the need to be a fixer.
  • Examine your heart for selfish motives in your caring or for a warped tendency to get your own need for significance met by ministering to your grieving friend.

Nancy quotes Dr. Kenneth Haugk who cautions us that if you hear yourself starting a sentence with the words “Well, I . . “; “When I . . .”; “I remember . . .”; or “My . . . ” — just don’t say it.

Other red flags that call for a re-thinking of our words include:

“Well, at least . . .”
“It was God’s will . . .”
“I know someone else who . . .”
“God took him/her so that . . .”

According to Nancy, one of the best statements you can make is “I don’t what what to say,” while one of the incorrect assumptions we make is that the grieving family is being ministered to by people who are “closer” to them, or, even worse, that they would rather just be left alone.  Showing up makes a powerful statement of support.

Esteeming the grief of those we love will look like patience and will keep us from putting a deadline on someone else’s grieving process.  It will keep us from looking away when they cry, and will give us courage to shed our own tears in their presence, because this demonstrates the fact that their loved one is worth grieving for.  Our shared sadness is tangible evidence of our love.

Nancy and her husband David host respite retreats for couples who have faced the death of a child and are actively involved in GriefShare which offers a ministry of education and counseling for those who are walking through loss.  She encourages grieving families to laugh and reminisce together and to seek community rather than trying to soldier their way through healing alone.

Over the long haul, friends who mark their calendar to remind them of anniversaries and birthdays, who provide practical help ranging from the casserole brigade to the repair of the broken back step, who offer to baby sit for children, or contribute money for the onslaught of expenses are truly demonstrating the love of Christ and are helping their grieving friends move toward healing and hope.

What Grieving People Wish You Knew is a resource of words and ideas, and it’s a gift to readers which will certainly result in greater courage and a more sensitive engagement of the Body of Christ with those who need to experience first hand the love and mercy of God.

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This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Weeping Woman of Ramah

(Matthew 2:16-18; Jeremiah 31:15; Isaiah 61:1-3)

There was no angel appearance to my husband —

No timely warning granted for us to flee the danger and death of Herod’s sword.

Know that I, too, would have fled.

I would have flown to the ends of the earth to dodge the flash of steel that ended my young son’s life, snuffed out to satisfy the jealous angst of a paranoid king.

Tricked out of a positive identification of his rival by the stealth of the wise men, Herod reduced a precious population of baby boys to a disposable demographic:
male child,
in Bethlehem and its districts,
two years old and under.

 My son.

Yes, my tears were foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, and the Messiah survived to live and die in the manner God had ordained.
(Is it ironic only to me that my boy died in the place of the savior of humanity?)

God’s economy is strange.

I would never have removed a creature so fine as he before his time.
There is a great hole in the universe now.

But I am a daughter of Deborah, a woman of the Covenant, and I know Who it is that sits at the Potter’s wheel, Who molds the clay.
I am the work of His hand.
My son was also His vessel.

God is building His kingdom; I know this in my head.
But I am a mother, finite, and I see through a glass darkly.

And I would trade all that promise of righteousness, all that prophetic fulfillment
for one more day with my boy.

Is there ever an era or a set of circumstances in which a bereaved mother does not
sob ragged to frame these words:
Why my child?
Why not some other?

I do not understand, and Jeremiah was cruelly accurate in his prophecy,
for I will not be comforted:

Not by time.
Not by the kind consolation of thoughtful words.
Not by the probing questions, thinly veiled queries, which, over the years
have come to revolve around a single theme:
“Isn’t she over this yet?”

Weeping, I wait for my heart to heal.

Weeping, and finding no ready answer to the evil in the world—the evil in me—
I discover that my suffering creates a space in which I wait for the deep comfort promised by another ancient prophet:

Healing for the brokenhearted.
Consolation to those who mourn.
Beauty.
Joy.
Praise.

I wait for another coming of this Jesus, and I long to believe,
for I know
that shortly after I see His face,

I will see, once again, the face of my boy.

_____________

A few verses in Matthew are all that are granted to the tragedy of slain baby boys following the birth of Jesus. As the mother of four sons, I’ve never experienced this depth of loss, and I find myself wishing with all my heart that these women could have been among those who “sorrow not even as others who have no hope.”  I love to think that there may have been those who knew from their exposure to the writings of the prophets that a Messiah would come to live and to die and to give beauty for ashes.

This post first appeared at SheLoves Magazine where we were writing for Advent 2015 on the theme “Paused and Present.”

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Image credit: Guilherme Yagui

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Living Fully with a Broken Heart

For ten lovely years we were six.
I loved being six.  In fact, I loved it so much that my email address incorporates our last name and the number six.
However, numbers change as children grow up and take flight.  After our oldest son married, we were mostly five, but sometimes seven; and when son number two left for college we became four on a day-to-day basis.
But sometimes – gloriously – we are eight because of a grandboy.
I am blessed by this joyful numbering, but what happens when the numbers change for other than joyful reasons?

What if the numbers change because of the death of a child?

September Vaudrey has shared her story of decreasing numbers that came with the death of her middle daughter at the age of nineteen.  Colors of Goodbye is a story of hope in a minor key, a story of letting go.   When September sensed the voice of God saying, “I am good.  This tragedy does not change My character.  It doesn’t change who I am.  I am good,” she left the door of her heart open to receive evidence of this truth.  The resulting memoir is very personal, and yet manages to capture the experience of the entire family’s grief and to offer a record of helpful ways in which their community responded.

Although the author’s focus is definitely the death of her daughter Katie  from a cerebral aneurysm, the book is also about Katie’s life:  how she wanted to leave ripples in the lives she left behind; how her faith informed her art (and vice versa); how her strengths as well as her faults contributed to her role in the family.  Then, because Katie’s funeral occurs at about the half-way mark in Colors of Goodbye, the second half of the book provides a poignant travelogue of one family’s slow traverse through the desert of grief.

I have emerged from this gripping read with a series of impressions, a supply of common-sense advice for ministering grace to the grieving, and some forcefully expressive insights to the loss from which a parent never fully recovers:

  1.  Each family member must be free to grieve in his own way.  An extrovert, September struggled to understand the low-key responses of her introverted husband and children.  It appears that each tendency carries its unique freight of disadvantages with extroverts oversharing (to the horror of September’s children) and introverts “stuffing” their feelings, and, perhaps, slowing their process of healing.  Scott (Katie’s father, September’s husband) needed quiet and distance in order to grieve well.  He took on a landscaping project and the physical work probably helped.  By contrast, September needed to keep a vigil over Katie’s last hours in the hospital, to do Katie’s make-up and hair for the funeral, to take pictures of her daughter’s dying.  She shares the importance of having no regrets and the fact that, “From the very beginning, our grief looks starkly different — and equally right for us both.”  It is critical for families to give each other the space to grieve in the manner that seems right for them.

2.  When losing a child, “you grieve not only for your own loss, but for everyone else’s, too.”  September found that commonality of trauma gave mutual understanding.  “Pain is pain, no matter its source.”  However, the pain must be faced head on.

3.  God does not promise parents a lifetime with their children here on earth.  This was a truth that September had to return to again and again.  It was heartbreaking to read her accounts of pleading with God to turn back the clock:  “Let Katie have a headache.  We’ll take her to ER, they’ll detect the aneurysm, and this story can have a different ending.”  Scott Vaudrey’s prayer frames the Christian’s vantage point:  “How blessed we are that someday we will see her again.  We grieve deeply, but we grieve with hope.”

4.  The death of a child brings unique pain to a family.  Their other children will pose for up-to-date family pictures, will likely add spouses and kids to their photos —  while the picture of the child who has died remains frozen in time, out-dated, and unchanging.   The dead child will not be present in siblings’ wedding and graduation pictures.  There is a tendency for parents to over-protect and worry obsessively over the safety of remaining children, and divorce statistics for bereaved parents are very discouraging.

5.  The day after the funeral is not a finish line, but a starting line.  Several times in her dated entries from the three years following Katie’s death, September shared her feeling of being trapped in an endless season of waiting.  When will life get back to “normal”?  She worked her way through what she referred to as “death chores” (writing thank you notes, throwing away bouquets, dealing with paperwork such as medical bills and insurance details, disposing of possessions), trusting for release from pent up sorrow.  Even knowing intellectually that, at some point, she needed to accept her new life — her very different life — without five children, her heart still needed to process that brave surrender.

6.  September’s memoir is a valuable record of the body of Christ showing up in meaningful, appropriate, and significant ways for a grieving family.  I kept a running list of all the thoughtful and helpful acts of love the Vaudrey family received, and I hope that if someone close to me is suffering in that way,  I will remember to refer to that list.  It ranged from the small and practical (restaurant gift cards tucked into sympathy cards, making it clear that it’s o.k. to talk about the deceased and then listening with patience, providing meals for the family and help with the children) to the significant and symbolic (planting a tree in the yard in memory of the child, including the family in events that would have involved the child, noting anniversary dates, accompanying the parents in difficult duties associated with the child’s death).  September spoke fondly of her “posse of girlfriends” who ministered to her in ways that even her family was unable to do.

7.  The circumstances of Katie’s death made her an ideal organ donor.  The Vaudreys were open and accepting of this option, and September shares how this decision both helped and exacerbated their pain, while affirming that it was the right decision for them.

Colors of Goodbye displays with candor the entire palette of September Vaudrey’s journey through grief.  The truth of God’s mercy is put on display, and she trumpets with joy the blessed hope that the believer does not “sorrow as others who have no hope.”  On the other hand, this is no candy-coated misuse of Romans 8:28 with the error of “forcing . . . tragedy into some sort of beautiful blessing without giving nod to [the] lacerating loss.”

The Vaudreys’ lives were forever changed on May 31, 2008 when their daughter died.   I write as an outsider to this form of grief.  However, I believe that, by the grace of God, they have allowed (and I’m sure are still allowing) their heartache to transform their lives with a beauty and joy that is theirs because of (not in spite of) their pain and loss.

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This book was provided by Tyndale Momentum, an imprint of Tyndale House Publishers, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Beyond the Happy Hallelujah

On New Year’s Eve 2015, our family had gathered with friends for our traditional celebration, but I had decided to shake things up a tiny bit.  Yes, we would eat goodies and play games and laugh at our crazy kids as usual, but I had found a list of thoughtful questions for us to ponder.  One of them stopped me in my tracks, because, without hesitation, my husband and I gave the identical answer — in unison:  With what word would you describe 2015?

“Disappointment,” we both said, and now, having read Broken Hallelujahs by Beth Slevcove, I can’t help but wish that the book had been written a year sooner, for Beth looks squarely at the truth that for most of our lives, we are living on “Holy Saturday,” waiting for a resurrection and walking in a hope that feels, at times, beyond hope.  Her journey began with multiple stories playing out in her life at the same time:  her brother’s diagnosis with brain cancer; his decline and eventual death; an on-going struggle with infertility; the realization that rheumatoid arthritis would limit her activity level and cause chronic pain; and a crashing economy that took her family business into bankruptcy.

Beth’s poignant memoir of grief and waiting moves beside a parallel narrative of spiritual formation.  “God, are you kidding?” became Beth’s prayer and anthem of loss, sung as she groped toward enough light to stay on the way of faith.  I especially appreciated her admission that her practical theology had centered around a cause-and-effect-vending-machine God.  Disappointment and unmet expectations led, eventually, to a howling lament that opened her ears to the sound of her losses, and, like the psalmists who poured out their sad hearts before God, she found that the “answer” to her cry was not an answer at all but a Person.    In learning how to pray out of that place of depletion, Beth realized that prayer postures can be a wordless connection, an expression in themselves of “openness, vulnerability, acceptance . . . submission, humility, and repentance.”

At the end of each chapter, Beth challenges her readers to dig deeper in a “here’s what worked for me” tone through exercises that require three healing behaviors:

  • Listening to your body, to your desires and emotions, to your places of poverty and neglect.
  • Engaging through projects that foster creativity, movement of the body, prayer practices, self-examination, and through questions that reflect on past behaviors and habits.
  • Connecting with God through heightened awareness of His love and His trustworthiness; entering into intensely personal communication with God without fear.

There is a tendency in Christian circles to soldier through grief and to minimize wounds and feelings of loss.  An example close at hand comes with my New Year’s Eve story, for right away I was tempted to reassure you that my family is blessed beyond measure and that our tiny disappointments of 2015 were minor compared with those of others we know (and maybe yours).  We minimize our feelings “as if each of us is only allotted a small amount of grief and we had better put it to good use on something really important.”  Allowing ourselves to feel authentically opens our hearts to “see the beauty, feel the joy, hear the laughter, and be touched by God’s innumerable graces that course through our veins and sneak into our circumstances.”

The truth of Broken Hallelujahs is that we are constantly being called upon to hold simultaneously two irreconcilable conditions in our mind and heart:  the way things should be and the way things are on this fallen planet.  Transformation and wholeness will come, but NOT through giving up on the beauty and order that we long for, NOR by stuffing our disappointment.

As a spiritual director, Beth Slevcove is uniquely positioned to share not only her own experience of healing out of grief, but also her observations of others’ creative engagement with loss, their process of making room for hope.  For instance, at the first hint of loss, my mind wants to start launching questions toward the heavens, and this is fine — except that I tend to ask unhelpful “why’s.”  Acknowledging the loss while affirming the presence of God (with me in the vacuum) leads to more helpful “what” questions (“What can I do in this unwanted situation?”); “where” questions (“God, where are you in this?”); and “how” questions (“How are you inviting me to be in this?”).  This kind of fact-finding demonstrates that I am paying attention to what God wants to do with a situation that feels like chaos to me.  Can I trust God’s motives?

Our hearts long for a depth of spiritual discernment that will enable us to hear the voice of God and follow with certainty.   We dread the hurt and disappointment at the end of rabbit trails that we thought were “The Way Home.”  Our broken hallelujahs, sung by and with the suffering during these days of shadows and longing, will find their way to a full-throated “grief-enriched” hallelujah — not in spite of our suffering, but because of it.

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This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

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Sisterhood is Eternal

Unbelieving, I held the phone to my ear.
Joanne?
Sick?
We had always talked by phone every few weeks, but wait . . . how long had it been?
And now a call from her husband with tears in his voice.
I could feel the conversation moving in a direction that I could not absorb:
Hospital
Organ failure
Death
The easy, relaxed freedom of our ties suddenly appeared to have been foolhardy. Although Joanne had been in her seventies, I truly had thought that she would live forever – or at least until we were both “caught up together with Him in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”

(We spoke of it often.)

Now she was already there, and I hadn’t even given her a proper send off.

Homeschooled sons, a toddler, a baby, and a five-hour drive make for some challenging funeral logistics, but the patient husband and I managed to attend somehow, because I had been asked to share words about Joanne and our friendship — an incredible gift to me in processing the beauty and the loss.

But it was not what helped the most.

Morbid as it sounds, the empty shell of her; the sick body looking so wrong and so hollow pierced the grieving just enough to make room for thanksgiving that God had allowed her to fly free of it. Here’s where the theology gets fuzzy, but “absent from the body, present with the Lord” superseded the void she had left behind, and with Holy-Spirit-fueled certainty, I knew that something stronger than heredity had been passed along to me during our decades-long sisterhood, a genealogy of spirit stronger than blood that came to me through:

Shared ministry in which we lost ourselves in the communication of Truth;
Witnessing her determination to be ordained during her retirement years;
Hours spent in prayer at a messy kitchen table;
Arguments over obscure Scripture passages when I was a headstrong teenager;
Her unshakeable conviction that God had plans for me.
Although it is untraceable from a practical standpoint, still, I ponder this concept:

A genealogy of Spirit – a sharing of faith and calling that runs back through all my known spiritual influences and beyond memory to the time of Christ.

Capture

I’m pondering the eternal sisterhood over at SheLoves Magazine today, and I hope you’ll join me there to read the rest of this post.  And while you’re there, be sure to read the thoughts of others on this month’s topic:  sisterhood.

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I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Finding Abundance in the Shadow of Death

A journey through cancer and a journey of joy would seem to be two very divergent paths — particularly if the cancer is terminal and if it hits in the midst of a season of health and productivity.  However, Steve and Sharol Hayner have invited readers into their experience of Joy in the Journey  — a hard pilgrimage that took them through pancreatic cancer, chemotherapy infusions, side effects, great pain, and loss.  They pull back the curtain on grace lessons from their day-to-day struggle to live their way into acceptance and peace.

Throughout Steve’s illness, the Hayners kept family and friends up-to-date using the CaringBridge website, never intending to write a book.  However, their authentic writing and the deeply theological truth they share work in tandem so that Joy in the Journey avoids sentimentality, instead singing in the key of biblical lament.  Abounding in grace, Steve writes through days in which he “prays his goodbyes” to the people he loves and to his career as president of Columbia Seminary.  Sharol walks her own grieving with traveling mercies that allow her to wait through the weeks of unanswered questions and the months of serial unknowns.

Disappointing test results, a galloping malignancy, and nine short months of living and dying with a terminal disease demonstrate on a macro scale what those of us who believingly follow Christ know well:  life is fraught with — even characterized by — tumultuous days.  Able-bodies and good health make daily adjustments to circumstances and changing relationships a bit easier, but in all the unmet expectations that are part of “every normal, mundane day,” it is clear the we are being prepared — through our daily disciplines and laborious attempts to follow Jesus — for darker seasons and a deeper following.  It is our response to suffering of all types that determines the impact the suffering will have on our soul, and Steve’s thoughtful reflections from the valley of the shadow yield helpful reinforcement toward a right response:

  • When Jesus is all you have, you soon discover that Jesus is all you really need.
  • As long as I have life on this earth, I have a call.
  • God will never give up in His work to transform me into the likeness of Jesus.
  • Joy is not about my circumstances, but rather about being held and sustained by God’s love.

Obviously, there is no “right way” to transition out of this life, nor is there a “best way” to grieve, but this stunning memoir and tribute to a godly man puts a spot light on a melding of grief and gratitude that is both reassuring and motivational.  For those who are trusting God’s faithfulness, it is possible to claim the gift of joy even in the darkest days.


This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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