Lent, Grief, and the Passing of Time

Ash Wednesday is tomorrow which means Lent is beginning. Those 40 days where the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. Those 40 days where we find ourselves traveling down that Lenten road to the cross and then finally to the empty tomb. This past year has felt like the longest Lenten weary road. There have been so many times I have just wanted to stop and sit on the side of the road waiting for someone to come along to walk with me.

Yesterday was the first anniversary of my friend Ben’s death. 365 days have passed since he took his last breath. At times, the grief has seemed somewhat subdued while at other times it has come on so suddenly and fast. Grief has a way of paralyzing us. We want to feel something; anything. Or we find ourselves trying to find a new normal in the midst of our grief.

The anniversaries are a passing of time. They continually remind us that this person is no longer with us. Today a friend shared this video about grief that really resonated with me.

Lent is truly a time for us to feel; to remember the promise of eternal life spoken over us as the ashes are placed upon our foreheads. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” That ashen cross reminds us again and again of our humanity and our mortality. It reminds us that life not death has the final word. Once again, in the words of Clarence W Hall, “Easter says you can put death in the grave, but it won’t stay there.”

There are times when it feels like death will stay in the grave. Yet God continually shows us the power that God holds. Lazarus is resurrected. Jesus is resurrection. Seeing and trusting in these acts of faith, I must also trust in the promise that God indeed has the power to overcome death. Ben is gone, but together we remember him. We are thankful and know that we are better for having known him.

Trusting in the promise of eternal life, Lent should and can feel like a spiritual journey renewing my faith in God and each other. But a lot of the times it can feel so beautifully broken. The words to Gungor’s song “Beautiful Things” are now playing in my heart and soul. “God makes beautiful things out of dust, out of us.” The road to the cross is not easy. In fact, it is extremely difficult.

Yet in our humanity, God calls us to grab his hand and walk along this Lenten weary road even when that Lenten weary road feels endlessly long. Because if we hold on tight, we eventually make it to the cross and then three days later, we come to the tomb to find it empty. It is a reminder that all is not lost. That life is meant to be lived and that death does not have the final say.

For it is at the empty tomb that we can truly declare that the world is about to turn. With Jesus’ resurrection, God declares that life not death has the final word.

“My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn (Canticle of the Turning; Rory Cooney; Copyright 1990 GIA Publications).”

Linking up with Kelly and the Ra Ra linkup, Mary and Tell His Story, Sue and Let’s Have Coffee and Kristin and Porch Stories!

Where, oh Where?

I am linking up for the Five Minute Friday. The FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung over at our Five Minute Friday website. Today’s word prompt is “search.” We would love to have you join us.

The jingle jangle of the ball echoes as she chases it back and forth. Soon she can’t find it. It’s escaped under the couch or behind the door frame. These balls are some of her fave toys. The other day I was searching for them and found a pile under the coffee table. I rescued them all.

Her favorite toy is a fish on a pole. Sometimes she pulls the fish out. But when she wants to play, that fish ends up anywhere. This morning, as I threw back the covers, the fish and pole was laying under the covers. Next time I’ll have to check the covers before I crawl under them.

She also likes to try and escape. I think she’s as tired of the winter as I am. When I come home, she is waiting by the door. The other day she even had searched and found her leash which she drug in front of the door so I would see it when I got home.

She also loves to find cozy spots to rest; under the coach, on the bottom shelf of the end table, downstairs and in so many places. But as I write now, there is no need to look for sweet Luna as she is curled up on the couch next to her favorite pillow resting her eyes.

Time Standing Still

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return” These words will be spoken over those gathered for Ash Wednesday worship next Wednesday March 6th. And as Ash Wednesday approaches, It seems that I am more aware of my mortality than ever before because of the many losses that occurred in 2018. Their names still echo in my heart and soul; Ben, Ralph, Aaron, Rachel, Stephanie, Jim, and Grandpa Wilbert.

The anniversary of the first death is quickly approaching. On Monday March 4th, it will be a year since God called Benjamin J. Ahles-Iverson home to be with him. It was the day Mara lost her beloved husband. It was the day Elizabeth lost her dad. It was the day Christine and Valerian lost their son and Phoebe and Aaron lost their brother. It was the day that I and many others lost our friend. 365 days have passed yet here are still days it seems so fresh like time has stood still.

Yet the truth is time hasn’t stood still. The minutes, hours and days have continued to tick by without this beloved child of God/our friend by our side. Birthday candles have been blown out without him. Presents have been opened without him. Birthday candles have been blown out without all of them. Presents have been opened without all of them. Anniversaries have been celebrated wishing the one we love was still here on earth by our side.

The truth is that 2018 has been one of the longest Lenten weary roads that I have ever traveled. The dust is still fresh on my face. And there have been so many times I have wanted to just sit on the side of the road. However, God has surrounded me, has surrounded all of us with community that walks this Lenten weary road together. As I find myself climbing back up to the empty tomb, I am reminded that life not death has the final word. “Easter says you can put death in the grave, but it won’t stay there.” (Clarence W. Hall)

It won’t stay there because God loved us so much, God sent God’s son into the world for all of us (See John 3:16-17) Jesus died on the cross for each and every one of us. And then on the third day, God raised Jesus from the grave proclaiming that life not death has the ultimate word. I know that in the midst of loss and grief and death it can feel like death is paralyzing us. There are so many times we find ourselves searching for breath. Yet in the midst of loss, if we let it, there is beauty and life that finds its way back to the surface.

This Lent, I am more than ready to find myself at the empty tomb. Yet I know that I cannot experience the joy of Easter Sunday without first experiencing the pain of Good Friday. I don’t always want to experience that pain. In fact, most days I would much rather not feel that pain. Yet by feeling this pain, I know that I have lived and loved. “Grief is the last act of love that we have to give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love.”

This Lent, I come with the image of so many friends and colleagues gathered around Ben’s urn on that March day in Taylor Wisconsin as we commended our friend/spouse/child/brother/father to God’s care. That image is forever implanted on my heart and mind as a visual reminder of the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us and who will come after us. The cloud of witnesses who will continue to share the story of faith that Ben and so many we lost this year believe wholeheartedly in.

Lent is a time for us to reflect and remember; to trust in the promise that God will never leave us or forsake us. I am reminded of the story Bryant shared after Ben’s funeral, about driving home, and their kids belting out the words to the song “Come Back Home” from the Greatest Showman soundtrack. Ben has been called home and we will eventually be called home too. God gave Ben and all those we lost this year to us to know and to love until the time when they were called back home.

So during this season of Lent, I walk this weary Lenten weary road knowing that there will be obstacles placed along the way. The dust will cake itself into the cracks and crevices as I journey the road. There will be times when I will just have to sit in the grief. And there will also be other times when disciples will show up and walk with me. Eventually I too will come to the tomb to find it empty. In seeing that empty tomb, I can proclaim without a doubt that death will not stay in the grave. Crying and pain will eventually be wiped away. I realize that there are so many days when this doesn’t seem possible especially when the tears are still wet upon our faces and the pain of loss is still so fresh. Yet God promises that life not death will always have the final word.

So on Ash Wednesday, as I leave with an ashen cross on my forehead, I will walk forth knowing that all of us are only given so much time on this earth. Yet God calls us to love and be loved until the day when we too are called to sit at the heavenly banquet feast with him. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Linking up with Kelly and the Ra Ra linkup, Mary and Tell His Story, Kristin and Porch Stories, and Sue and Let’s Have Coffee!

Sunday Blessings 244 and 245

(1) A beautiful surprise gift in the mailbox from SS. I love it! Thanks!

(2) Friends who pray

(3) A little bit warmer weather

(4) V Day card from my sissy

(5) More Girl Scout cookies

(6) Tire repair guys who fix tires when there is a nail in them!

(7) A neighbor shoveling my sidewalk

(8) Lots of silent auction items

(9) KD asking if she can help with the silent auction

(10) Coffee and Conversation

(11) RW stopping by at Coffee and Convo

(12) My sweet sweet Luna kitty! She is also so funny!

(13) Being asked to lead Slate Speak in March

(14) Sausage and Kale Soup from Magnolia Table

(15) Sunshine! It truly does make a difference when it is colder than snot outside!

(16) Kids Baking Championship! It is so fun to watch!

(17) The Oscars

(18) Having so much fun taking pictures at the church lutefisk dinner

(19) A nice PLN (post liturgical nap)

(20) Water

An Assortment of Justs

I am linking up for the Five Minute Friday. The FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung over at our Five Minute Friday website. Today’s word prompt is “just.” We would love to have you join us.

Just treat each other with kindness.

Just open our ears, eyes, and hearts to those around us.

Just stop snowing already.

Just listen.

Just another second please.

Just another book at the bookstore.

Just one minute!

Just who will win the Oscars on Sunday evening?

Just how much does it take to put on a huge lutefisk and meatball dinner at church this weekend? 1800 pounds of lutefisk, 1000 pounds of potatoes, 850 meatballs and lots and lots of hands.

Just who do you think you are? Why did you call me friends adopted son Solomon the N word? That word is never ok. Solomon is a beloved child of God.

Do you just want to play Luna? Or is it nap time?

Just when will the grief change? Tomorrow grandpa will have been gone two months already. I miss him so!

When will a cure for cancer be found?

Just when?

So many justs scattered throughout our days.

Confidence

I am linking up for the Five Minute Friday. The FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung over at our Five Minute Friday website. Today’s word prompt is “confident.” We would love to have you join us.

She gracefully glides across the stage. Each movement flows with the rhythm of the music. Her eyes catch her family in the audience watching. A smile spreads across her face. She is so happy and confident.

It hadn’t always been this way. As a little girl, she was timid. Scared even. Wondering what her audience would think. But over time and as she grew up, this love of dance brought her a newfound confidence.

This girl isn’t anyone in particular, but she does remind me of many of my church kids. Many of my girls are dancers. But there are others who love hockey, swimming, track, basketball, and so many other sports.

But friends, confidence and dedication are not just found in sports. It is found in a love of theater, a love of music and so much more. For me, I found my confidence in theater. Teachers who saw it in me before I even saw it in my myself.

My prayer is that today’s children/youth know they can absolutely without a doubt find confidence in Gods love for them.

Have You Forgotten Me?

This week rather Valentine’s Day is hard y’all! I know I sound like a broken record. But there is so much truth to this statement. On Valentine’s Day, it seems everywhere you look there are flowers being delivered to everyone but you. It seems everyone has someone next to their side holding their hand while my hand lays empty. And there are roses, balloons, chocolates…oh MY….everywhere! It is almost impossible to escape the reality of this day especially as a single person. For me, it continually reminds me of my singleness and Valentine’s Day has been dubbed Single Awareness Day by myself and many others.

At 40 years old, my biological clock is continually ticking away. I have yearned to be a wife and mom since I was a little girl. Yet it has not happened for me. It is a deep desire of my heart that continually echoes “How long, oh Lord, will you forget me forever? How long, Oh Lord?”

On days, like Valentine’s Day, I too often find myself believing that God has indeed forgotten me. Why is my heart aching so deeply because this deep desire has not been met for me? My head truly knows that God has not forgotten me but my heart believes something else entirely.

Logically, every fiber of my being knows that if it is meant to be, it will happen in God’s timing and not my own. Yet illogically, I want to try everything in my power to fix this. Yet the truth is there is nothing to fix. However, how often does society make those of us who are single feel like we are broken; unwhole because we do not have that special someone by our side? The truth is that it is all too often!

I wish that I didn’t wrap my identity up in my singleness. I wish that I could see that I am enough. But on days, like Valentine’s day, it is almost impossible to escape these thoughts running through my heart and head. I want the ache of my heart to go away. I want to finally have the deep desires of my heart met. I want to know that my wholeness is not wrapped up in a label…single, married, divorced, widowed, etc.

Because of my faith, I will spend Valentine’s Day trying with all my might to trust in the promises that I am a beautiful beloved child of God. Every year on Valentine’s Day, I am reminded of these words from an article I read several years ago: “I’m single. Not sick, not a problem and not past my prime. So please don’t pity me on Valentine’s Day, because today of all days, I need your help to remember that my value doesn’t rest in a relationship status, in a box of chocolates or in a red rose. It rests in the fact that no matter what lies ahead of me, I am God’s beloved and His plans for me far exceed the feelings of a day.” (Read the rest HERE!)

As the engagement rings are placed on fingers, as friends start having children of their own, and relationships form around me, it can be really easy to fall into that pit of pity; to believe that all of who I am is wrapped up in my singleness. It is on this special day that I need to fully know that my identity is not wrapped up in my singleness, but in my identity as a beautiful blessed broken beloved child of God.

Because on Valentine’s Day, I need to know more than ever that I am valued, that I am enough, and that I am loved.

I am linking up with Kelly and the Ra Ra linkup, Mary and Tell His Story, Susan and Lets Have Coffee and Kristin and Porch Stories!

Sunday Blessings 243

(1) Girl Scout cookies. Thanks Ellie!

(2) New books!

(3) A warm house on these frigid cold days

(4) Apologies

(5) Luna!!

(6) Leftover pizza from Confirmation

(7) Awesome quilts from churches I’ve served

(8) My car starting after a record setting cold day (-45 degrees below zero)

(9) Youth Group

(10) Grammys

(11) Talking to Grandma on the phone

(12) MDU workers who got power restored quickly on Friday

If You Build It…

I am linking up for the Five Minute Friday. The FMF is hosted by Kate Motaung over at our Five Minute Friday website. Today’s word prompt is “build.” We would love to have you join us.

“If you build it, they will come!”-from the movie Field of Dreams. Since hearing the word prompt, this quote has been replaying in my head.

The movie Field of Dreams was filmed in Dyersville Iowa. It was not very far from where I went to seminary in Dubuque. Some friends and I would go spend time at this historic site once in awhile.

I remember one time in particular when we were working our way through the corn maze answering the trivia questions along the way. The boys got bored and split off from us girls. Then they decided it would be fun to scare us and attack us with corn stalks. We laughed about how there was probably hidden cameras and we were going to get in trouble. There were no hidden cameras!

I have always loved this movie. There is something about the promise that if you build it they will come. The field is built and the baseball players do come. What are you going to build so people will come?

And a shout out I need to share: This morning, I am especially thankful for electrical workers who braved forty below zero temperatures to restore power quickly and efficiently.

A Gentle Warrior

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the definition of warrior” is defined as person engaged or experienced in warfare; or “broadly: a person engaged in some struggle or conflict.”

The other day a friend called me her warrior. I’ve never really thought of myself as a warrior. But when I look at this definition, I see that I fit more in this definition than I realized. A warrior is anyone who is engaged in some struggle or conflict. Most of my life I have lived with the realities of being the daughter of a woman who lives daily with a mental illness.

I kept so much of that story locked deep in the depths of my heart. I saw the stigma associated with mom’s illness so I didn’t tell anyone until I was eighteen years old. In finally unlocking this piece of my story, a sense of peace and freedom finally came over me.

There are days I wonder why this has been our journey. There are other days I wish that I could fix it all. And there are yet other days that I find myself powering through and doing my best to share our story.

Just last week at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza, I led two workshops “Living as a Daughter: What I have Learned from our Mental Health Journey.” I have told my; our story many times. But this time was different. I don’t know if it was because I was sharing our story with colleagues and friends. I even said, “Who am I to say?” To which another friend reminded me, “Who are you not to say? You don’t know everything but you know a lot more than most.”

Those words were words I needed to hear. In a lot of ways, I am that warrior that my friend called me. It takes a gentle strength to overcome the stigma and to tell our mental health story. It takes courage to find the words to help others eventually tell their stories. And in doing so, I find my inner warrior.

I am Sandy’s daughter. I am a warrior…called to share her story and help stop the stigma of mental illness.