The Body of Christ

Nothing much has changed since last October, my friends and beloved teachers are no longer here on this side of heaven. I still miss them each and every day. I miss opening up Facebook to see Justin’s antics. I miss asking my beloved teacher questions when I want to sort through something. I miss Ben’s laugh. I miss Rachel’s kindness. I miss the way Jim shared his family with my sister, mom and I and loved us. I miss them more today than the day that I found out that they had passed away. There is still a piece of my heart broken and cracked from these losses.

The last month, I have shared my stories of many of them with you. In addition, I have walked you through my own journey of grief. And there are days still that I wonder if I will catch my breathe; wondering when the next shoe will drop; when the news of yet another death will come my way. There are also days I continually find myself crying out “How long, oh Lord, will you forget me forever?” But even with that question on my lips, I see glimmers of hope. My blog friend Andrew has found a way to live with cancer. (But I also dread the day that I open social media to find the day he has finally lost his cancer fight.) Each of these families who have suffered loss are slowly finding their new normals.

Loss and grief affect us all. Sometimes it comes expectedly after a long lived life. Other times it comes so unexpectedly. It also happens through the loss of a friend, the changing of a relationship and in so many and various ways. Grief shows up in the most unexpected of places; whether through a song, a broken pair of sunglasses, a photo and in many other ways. In these most unexpected ways, God still shows up and holds us. God weeps with us in our pain and grief.

I have been changed by the relationships God has placed in my life. I have been loved and shown love by these dear souls. They were a gift to me on this earth and will continue to be a gift as I live my life knowing that they were taken from us way too soon and way too unexpectedly. They also have taught me over and over that the lenten weary road of grief is not meant to be walked alone. It is meant to be shared in community; community that holds one another in our grief and like God, weeps with us.

I will always picture a community of Ben’s friends and family gathered at that brewery in Wisconsin lifting stories and songs for our dear friend. In fact, Canticle of the Turning will never sound the same. The most powerful version sung out by many voices in that brewery. I will treasure the many faces of Ben’s colleagues and friends standing around Ben’s urn commending him to God’s care. I will forever be grateful for a seminary classmate and his wife who opened their home to me so I could attend Ben’s funeral. In addition, I am thankful for a dear colleague and friend who opened her home to me as well so I could attend our friend Rachel’s funeral. These are just some of the many ways that community gifted me this past year in the midst of loss and grief.

Because of the gift of community, I know that I will never be alone. God has gifted me with friends and family who will walk the journey of grief with me. Community holds one another up in the midst of our loss and grief. Community will pray for us when we cannot find the words to pray for ourselves. Community will sing for us when we cannot find our voice and sing for ourselves. Community will wipe away our tears.

Community is a gift that God gives us for today and the days yet to come. Community is found in the faces I see singing in that brewery in Wisconsin. Community is found in our friends as we gather and shed tears around Rachel’s casket. Community is found as a cacophony of numerous voices commend Ben to Christ’s care. Community is found in the faces of those who are standing in the sanctuarys and the gravesites as we have to say goodbye to our family and friends who have gone before us.

The truth is that I know that death will come again. It is a part of the cycle of life. I am reminded again of the words from Ecclesiates. “There’s an opportune time to do things; a right time for everything on the earth: a right time for birth and another for death, a right time to plant and another to reap, a right time to kill and another to heal, a right time to destroy and another to construct, a right time to cry and another to laugh, a right time to lament and another to cheer, a right time to make love and another to abstain, a right time to embrace and another to part, a right time to search and another to count your losses, a right time to hold on and another to let go, a right time to rip out and another to mend, a right time to shut up and another to speak up, a right time to love and another to hate, a right time to wage war and another to make peace (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; The Message).”

There will be more death and loss and grief. But I come away from these 31 days knowing that I can grieve well when I do it with others. That I can grieve trusting in the promises of Christ who promises to never leave us or forsake us. I know that I can grieve because when I cannot pray, when I cannot sing and when I cannot hold myself up, community will do that for me! And community will be there for you too.

“Community is not just about being together. It’s about doing life together (Doing Life Together; Jen Schmidt).” Or in the words of a song from the musical Wicked, I’ve been changed by you; changed for the good. The truth is I’ve been changed by the body of Christ!

Together, the body of Christ grieves with one another. The body of Christ continually shows us God’s love, goodness, and grace in the midst of life’s brokenness. The body of Christ shapes us back into whole beings. We may not be the same as we once were but we are changed because of the community that surrounded us. We are God’s living breathing kintsugi; shining out light in the brokenness of this world!

Linking up with Kelly and the Ra Ra linkup, Mary ant Tell His Story, Holley and Coffee for your Heart, and Kristin and Porch Stories!

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A Psalm of Rain

Monday as I sit down to write this post, the rain is falling outside my office window. It has been raining for quite awhile now. And as it rains, it is dark and dreary. It is one of those days where one just wants to curl up with a good book and a nice warm blanket with my fur baby on my lap.

The rain is slowly trickling down now. Rain reminds me of the waters of Baptism and how in Baptism, God calls and claims us as God’s beloved children. In fact, everything we are and have and do is grounded in Baptism. At seminary my seminary advisor gifted each of his advisees a beautiful wall hanging. Mine reads “Tara Lee Ulrich, you are a baptized child of God; whatever else you are; remember that you are that, for that is the basis of whatever else you are.”

In grief, God reminds us that God will never leave us or forsake us. Especially in our grief, God promises to walk the lenten weary road of grief with all of us. God weeps with us in our sorrow and grief.

Last month, after hearing the news of my dear friend Leslye’s husbands death, the day after his death, it was raining hard too. And in my grief, I wrote Leslye, Jim’s parents and Jim and Leslye’s kids a poem that expressed how I was feeling in the midst of my own grief. The poem I wrote is entitled “A Psalm of Rain.”

Words, like tears, are ways that we express ourselves in our grief. May these words bless all who are grieving. May these words remind us all that we are beloved children of God; called and claimed in the waters of Baptism. Holy water that reminds us continually of who and whose we are!

A Psalm of Rain
By Tara L. Ulrich

The rain falls gently
Outside my office window
And I find myself thinking;
thinking these are tears;
Tears that tell how much he
Was loved.

Holy tears
That tell us
How much he was loved
And how he loved so much.

A legacy;
Left to his children and grandchildren
A legacy;
That reminds us of who and whose we are;
Beloved children of God.

The rain continues to fall
And the tears still fall
From my own eyes;
Giving thanks
For a life lived so well
But taken from us too soon.

And in the midst of my tears;
In the midst of our tears,
I know that we are not alone
We are surrounded by
An incredible cloud of witnesses;
That lift us up when we cannot
Lift ourselves up.

So as the rain falls,
And the tears trickle
Down our faces,
May we remember always
How much he loved us
And we loved him.

Rest in peace, dear Jim!

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Grief and Fear

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”–CS Lewis

Fear has a way of taking hold of us and paralyzing us, doesnt it? I think of the ways that fear stops me from doing things because I am afraid of what will or will not happen. After a death, there is fear in what comes next and how does one move forward when our loved one is no longer with us. It is literally as if the rug has been pulled out from underneath us.

In Scripture, the words “Do not be afraid” apparently appear 365 time; one for every day of the year. Now I don’t know about you, but that does not seem like a coincidence to me. God knew that life would be filled with ups and downs, joys and sorrows. God wants us to know that God is always there with us. God will never leave us or forsake us.

We hear these words in the Old Testament. In Isaiah chapter 41, verse 10 we hear, “Do not fear, for I am with you, Do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” Those words “Do not be afraid” were also said to Mary as the Angel told her that she would bear the Christ child. Those words are a daily reminder that God calls us to live each day fearless.

Living fearless is not easy. In fact, when the ones we love are no longer with us and they are the ones who gave us the strengthen to try new things, it is nearly impossible. Yet God promises that God will always walk this journey with us. God calls us to trust in him; to trust in faith over fear.

Faith over fear allows us to move forward  in life after loss and grief. Faith over fear gives us the strength to be surrounded by community who sing, pray, and believe for us when we cannot do those things for ourselves. Faith over fear reminds us that we loved and were loved…thats why the loss hurts so deeply. Faith over fear gives us the courage to live fearless in the face of loss and grief. Because the truth is that fear is a liar!

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No Regrets

Six years ago today, I watched as my friend Ben married the love of his life Mara! The joy between them was palpable! The photograph captured this joy in all the photos taken. It’s one of my most favorite memories of my friend Ben; to see him so giddily happy!

Its a trip I almost didn’t take, but knew that I had to. I drove about 5 hours to my friend Carries and then we drove to the wedding together. The whole way jamming to Mumford and Sons. We even stopped at the castle; our beloved Wartburg Seminary for a quick pit stop. At the wedding and reception, this community celebrated with Ben and Mara. Many of those same individuals came together last March to celebrate Ben’s life and commend Ben to Gods care. The same card box used at their wedding used at the visitation and funeral too.

There are moments we sometimes regret in life. The conversations we never had. The dream left by the wayside. But there are also moments that one does not regret. I for one second do not making that road trip for Ben and Mara’s wedding. I do not regret hopping the train and being there for Ben’s funeral. In fact, it’s one of those moments I’m so thankful I got to share with Ben’s friends and family as we grieved in community together. I don’t regret saying goodbye to Rachel with our friends. And I for sure don’t regret saying goodbye with our dear family friends. Each of these moments remind me of someone who I loved and loved me back.

No regrets that I shared my life with them. No regrets for the joy they brought into my life. No regrets because of the ways each of them showed me Gods love and grace. Because of this love, today, I will celebrate Ben and Mara and their love for one another that is embodied in their daughter Elizabeth. Happy 6th Anniversary friends!

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These Moments

I am linking up for the Five Minute Friday. This is also Day 26 of the Write 31 Days challenge. The FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung over at our Five Minute Friday website. Today’s word prompt is “moment.” We would love to have you join us.

When someone dies, we remember the moment we heard the news. It’s hard not to forget that moment. Because that moment changes life. I think of my dear friend Leslye and the moment she found out about her beloved Jim. I wonder what it must have been like to hear those words. I also think of all my friends who have gotten that hard news.

And knowing how grief can be so exhausting, I find myself remembering the moments with my friends and family I’ve lost. I think of all the fun times my friend Ben and so many of us shared at seminary. I think of my beloved English teacher and the times at state theater. I especially remember the time I woke up to that trip with laryngitis. My friends not allowing me to speak until we performed at the state competition. The moments we treasured with those we loved add up in big and little moments. Moments that we are to cherish.

These moments are to be held in the depths of our hearts. These moments are not to be forgotten. These moments are meant to be shared as we remember the ones we’ve loved and lost.

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Grief’s Weight

There are days that the grief is so heavy that it feels like it is hard to catch one’s breath. And other days when the grief is still there but is overshadowed by the hope and joy that God brings into my world. Grief comes and goes like a wave washing over us.

I have been no stranger to grief this year. I have lost people that I have loved deeply. I have lost mentors and friends. I have cried tears for friends that I loved having conversations with but now cannot have those conversations on this earth. My heart aches for those that have been lost unexpectedly to death. My heart yearns for them to be here on earth with us. Yet I know that in time we will be united on the other side of heaven.

And as I grieve these dear souls, I also grieve the world that we are living in. I want a better world for our youth. I want Ben’s daughter Elizabeth to be able to go to school without feeling scared for her safety. I want Jim’s grandchildren to not know war but to know a world that is more peaceful. And yet every day I turn on the news, only to turn it off immediately because my heart cannot take anymore death; anymore bad news. I want a better world for us all.

And then I realize that the reason I can’t catch my breath is that grief is all around me. I think I am just ready to move on when the news of another death hits me yet again. The truth is that grief happens in all sorts of ways through the loss or change of a relationship, through the loss of a job unexpectedly, and in so many ways. Yet in the midst of grief, God weeps with us.

Knowing that God weeps with us, I know that grief is part of the cycle of life. “For everything is a season; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to laugh and a time to cry.” For every time God promises to hold us in our grief. God places people in our lives who sing for us when we cannot sing for ourselves, who pray for us when we cannot find the words, and who promise to hold us in both lifes joys and sorrows. For God loved us so much God sent God’s one and only Son into the world for all of us. That’s a promise and a love I can cling to when the grief is too heavy!

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Resurrection Hope

Grief is so hard! It can come in the most unexpected ways; whether through a song, a broken pair of sunglasses, and in so may ways. Yet in the midst of grief, God promises to never leave us or forsake us. God eventually leads us out of the darkness of grief into some glimmers of hope.

At the time of grief, it doesn’t seem possible that hope will eventually reveal itself. Yet the truth is that hope finds a way to the surface. I think of all the ways that I have seen hope revealed.

Approximately nine years ago when the Haiti earthquake happened, I never imagined that goodness and hope would come out of that tragedy. In fact, it was so hard to watch my friend Renee grieve her beloved husband Ben. It was hard to watch the people of Haiti as they said goodbye to their beloveds and searched for shelter, food, etc in the aftermath of this earthquake. Who would have known that a few years after this tragedy hope would shine brightly?

God led Renee to Jon and together they started a new life together. I loved what the preacher at their wedding shared about how Jon in no way replaces Ben but instead a new relationship is formed. And together, Jon and Renee have brought two beautiful boys into this world; reminders of God’s goodness and resurrection hope. Life is born out of death. Ben still sings.

As I stood at Jim’s grave and looked to my left to see my friend Rachel’s headstone, I knew that two of my friends were not united with Christ and that I should not be afraid. More hope revealed!

And as I watch Ben’s wife and daughter put one step in front of the other and as Mara begins a new call in a new community, hope once again reveals itself. Hope is found even in the midst of brokenness; in the midst of death and grief.

For it is in hope found in loss and grief, that we are God’s kintsugi revealing beauty in the midst of brokenness. In the words of Gungor music “God makes beautiful things out of dust, God makes beautiful things out of us.” We cannot be Easter people without first experiencing the reality of Good Friday.

Linking up with Holley and Coffee for your Heart and Kristin and Porch Stories!

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The Sacredness of Funerals

In the last year, I have attended more funerals than I could have ever imagined. I stood in a santuary with many colleagues and friends as we said goodbye and commended our friend Ben to God’s care. I stood around our friend Rachel’s casket my arms draped around several of our friends. I laid on my couch and watched online as Stephanie was laid to rest. And I processed in with our friend’s family as they said goodbye to their beloved husband, father, son, brother etc.

I was once taught that funerals are not for those who have died. But instead funerals are for those still left here on earth. Funerals are for the living. Funerals allow a space for families and friends to grieve and say goodbe. In the words of this quote, “It’s not over when the funeral is done and everyone goes back to their lives. That’s when the journey down grief highway begins.”

The truth is that life will never be the same without the person we lost. Yet the reality is that we must put one foot in front of the other and live each day remembering and knowing that our loved one is watching over us and walking with us. Yet that can still be hard to do at times.

But funerals are a gift to all of us. Funerals allow us to grieve together as a community. Funerals hold a sacredness that continually reminds us of the promises given us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. “Easter says you can put death in the grave, but it won’t stay there.” In other words, life not death has the ultimate word.

One day, we will be reunited with our loved one in heaven. I couldn’t help but think of Matthew West’s song “Save a Place for Me.” The lyrics read as follows: “Don’t be mad if I cry; It just hurts so bad sometimes; ‘Cause everyday it’s sinking in; And I have to say goodbye all over again; You know I bet it feels good to have the weight of this world; Off your shoulders now; I’m dreaming of the day when I’m finally there with you; Save a place for me; Save a place for me; I’ll be there soon; I’ll be there soon; Save a place for me; Save some grace for me; I’ll be there soon; I’ll be there soon; I have asked the questions why; But I guess the answer’s for another time; So instead I’ll pray with every tear; And be thankful for the time I had you here; Save a place for me; Save a place for me; I’ll be there soon; I’ll be there soon; Save a place for me; Save some grace for me; I’ll be there soon; I’ll be there soon.”

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Linking up with Kelly and the Ra Ra Linkup and Mary and Tell His Story.


A Butterfly

A butterfly goes through four stages through the course of their life. First, it starts as an egg. Then that egg transforms to larva which then becomes the pupa or the chrysalis. Then after it is done maturing, the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. Each stage is important to the life cycle of a butterfly.

During the life cycle of a butterfly, each stage is important and changes so the butterfly can eventually emerge as an adult butterfly. In grief, we experience many different stages too. Some of us experience all of the stages of grief. Others of us move fluidly between different stages. And yet others of us will stay in one stage for a long time. These stages shape us and form us into changed beings.

Grief and loss changes us. And grief and loss don’t always happen through death. As the daughter of a woman who lives daily with a mental illness, I have had to grieve other things. For example, if I ever get married, I am not sure if mom will be able to go dress shopping with me. As a little girl, most of us have dreamed of the day we would go wedding dress shopping with our moms. So I have had to grieve that they may not look the same for me.

Grief is a change of relationships. It transforms us and changes us. Grief and death are part of the cycle of life. In other words, grief reminds us of the reality of Jesus’ own life, crucifixion, death and ultimately resurrection. We cannot experience Easter without first experiencing the last Supper on Maundy Thursday and the pain and reality of Good Friday. Grief teaches us that life not death has the ultimate word.

However, that can be hard to trust in when we want our loved ones here on earth with us. Yet God tells us that God will never leave us or forsake us. God will walk with us through all the changes of life. Grief eventually leads way to dancing. “Weeping may come for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Eventually our grief leads us from the egg, to the larva, to the chrysalis. And then a beautiful new butterfly emerges that has been shaped by grief and loss. A new butterfly emerges that reminds us day in and day out that new life does come from death. Resurrection hope emerges from the chrysalis.

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