The Winds of Grief

Today marks the one year anniversary of the e-book Letters to Grief by Kate Motaung. Kate’s book is a book of essays about grief that will bless all because we all experience grief throughout our lifetimes. To celebrate the one year anniversary, Kate is hosting a special link-up of Letters to Grief. Little did she know that this week has been all about grief for me and so many of my friends. 

Dear grief,

Would you please go away? I have been immersed in you this week. My dear seminary friend lost her battle with cancer earlier this week and all of us; her mat-carriers are scattered far and wide. We all are grieving as a community and it isn’t fair. It isn’t fair that Laura’s girls have now lost both parents to cancer. It isn’t fair that we didn’t get to say goodbye. It isn’t fair that a life was taken too short.
Growing up on the prairies of North Dakota, I have experienced the effects of the prairie winds. And you, grief, often feel like that prairie wind. Sometimes you blow in so gently like on Monday when the tears gently fell from my face as I read the news of my friend’s passing. Or sometimes you blow in more like a winter storm leaving the affects of a strong wind behind. And other times, you blow in like a light breeze before a summer rain. 
Sometimes that wind leaves me drenched after a summer rain leaving me uncomfortable. Other times that wind blows in so strong that I feel as if I am drowning. And other times, I am left just a little damp or even dry. No matter what type of wind and how wet I find myself, I find myself trying to escape the depths of grief; yearning to throw off those wet clothes of grief.
Grief, not only, are you like those ND prairie winds, but you also are like mountain climbing. Some days I find myself clawing my way victorious to the top of Mt. Grief. Other times, I find myself slipping, sliding, and falling down that same mountain trying to climb my way out of the depths of grief. And other times, I find myself simply holding on for the ride…hoping and praying that I will come out on the other side a changed person. And yet other times, I find myself panting for breath wondering if I will be able to breath again.
Oh grief, I am already tired of you, but I also know that you are a part of life. My wise pastoral friend Laura found a way to remind all of us mat-carriers of that when she said, “Be patient with yourselves while you are grieving and tell the people you love that you love them and know that you are loved.” Grief, I am not going to let you take that promise away from me. It is a promise that can overshadow the grief I and so many are feeling in these days of loss because “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.”
Grief, during these days of Advent, as we wait for the coming of Emmanuel, may you come in like gentle waves on an ocean rather than like crashing hurricane force winds. And grief, may you know that you have no power over hearing those three simple words “I love you!”

The Impact of Love

There are people who God places in our lives that leave such a lasting imprint. It is almost impossible to remember a time when you did not know that individual. Their light seems to always shine a little bit brighter than the rest of our lights. And my friends, today that light is a little bit dimmer. My dear friend Laura completed her baptismal journey yesterday and is now reunited with her beloved, Rod.

When I started at Wartburg Seminary, Laura was one of the first people that I met and was one of the most welcoming people I have ever met. In addition, her smile always lit up a room. She loved well and she loved deep! I am reminded of a story my friend Sandi shared about when her and her family moved onto the campus at Wartburg. Laura showed up with toilet paper and lemonade: perfect gifts for moving into a new home on a hot summer day. Love can be so very simple, like through fresh squeezed lemonade, and Laura was the absolute best at showing that love!

Laura also always exuded joy. Some of my favorite memories were watching Laura and a few of our other friends (Sally, Sandy, etc) cheer on our “Running Reformers” city league basketball team. Those cheers always brought a smile to my face. Laura was all about the hokey pokey. In fact, every time I hear it now I will smile and think of this beloved friend. “Because that’s what it’s all about!”

A few years ago, our friend Julia ran in honor of Laura and sarcoma research during the Fargo Marathon. Now I am no runner, but I was so delighted to stand on the sidelines donning my “Team Koppy” t-shirt and cheering on Julia and Laura.

Laura is a soul who touched many lives especially her beloved daughters. Today, Laura is free of all that ails her. And I reluctantly put down her mat at Jesus’ feet, but I put it down knowing she is free of pain and reunited with her dearly beloved husband, Rod. I also am reminded of Laura’s own wise pastoral words that are bringing me some comfort today: “Be patient with yourselves while you are grieving and tell the people you love that you love them and know that you are loved.”

So now as I lay down my mat, I see all the others around me reluctantly laying down their mats too. Laura touched more lives than I think she will ever know or could imagine. The impact of love for Laura is seen in the tears, Facebook posts, and sighs too deep for words that express the impact of love she has had on each and every one of us.

Laura, my friend, you are so dearly loved! 

Thank You Kara Tippetts!

The sun was streaming in through the windows of my house. At 2:15 pm, I opened my phone to her website and clicked on the link to watch the live stream of her memorial service. I watched as Jason and their children walked into the sanctuary. I listened to the musicians play beautiful music. And I especially listened to the words that were spoken at the beginning of her service. A man (I am not sure who exactly he was) came to the microphone and said “Welcome.” But then he proceeded to share how that seemed so impersonal. Because Kara was one who would take your hand and put it over your heart, entering you into her heart. And just as Kara was taking hold of your hand and placing hers over yours, her hand was also being quietly grasped into your heart and you didn’t even know it.

Those words that he spoke are so true. I may never have met Kara. But through her words, through her vulnerability, through her heart, I got to know this beautiful child of God. A child of God who ventured to share even the hardest darkest pieces of her life. And because she shared her story with so many of us, she indeed grabbed our hands and placed them over her heart and at the same time entered into our hearts. And because she shared her whole story, many around the world gathered to laugh, to cry, to mourn and to grieve this beautiful child of God this afternoon.

Tears streamed down my face as I listened to Kara’s memorial service. But then it was 2:45 pm and I needed to leave. I grabbed my shoes and slipped them on. I grabbed my car keys and walked outside. The sun was beating warmly across my face silenting reminding me of the beauty of this world. I opened my car door and sat down. I placed my phone in the cupholder and drove to the hotel where my friend and her family were staying. The whole time Kara’s memorial service played on my phone.

I pulled up to the hotel. I turned off the livestream; wishing I could listen more but knowing that the video would hopefully be uploaded later. Before I went into the hotel, I wiped the still wet tears from my face and reflected for a moment. Then I walked through the front doors of the hotel, turned left, went down the hallway and turned right into the pool area. I found my friend sitting at the table and her daughter happily playing in the swimming pool. I haven’t seen this friend in quite a while so we sat and visited while her daughter played. While we chatted, I watched the children and families all playing so happily. Deep inside, my heart was breaking for Kara’s family as they were at that same exact moment saying goodbye to their beloved wife and mother. But I also know that because of Kara’s own words and own examples that she would want me to be with those near and dear to my heart. She would want me to continue to “love them hard” so that is exactly what I did.

After about an hour, I came home to my house. I tried to get back onto the live stream but it was finished. I laid my phone down on my coffee table and turned on my television. A couple of hours  later, I opened my front door listening to the first Spring rain falling. The aromas of that Spring rain wafted over me and I stood holding my screen door wide open, the rain falling lightly upon my face, and my head resting on the door looking up to the heavens; looking up to where Kara now resides and continues to tell her whole story. I stood there for a few more minutes letting the rain wash over me and then I looked up to the heavens and simply whispered, “Thank you Kara Tippetts.”

It was a simple thank you, but it is one that I believe many of us are saying to her and to her family because she shared her whole story with us. May we too, in the mundane days of faithfulness, remember to love big, to be vulnerable, and to share in the midst of even the hardest darkest places as well as in the most joyful places.

To read more of Kara’s journey, go here: Mundane Faithfulness. If you would like to help support the Tippett’s children, the family asks that donations may be sent to:

Jason Tippetts
P.O. Box 49727
Colorado Springs, CO 80949

I am linking up with Barbie Swihart for the Weekend Brew and with Anita at Blessed but Stressed for Inspire Me Monday. 
                                                             

To Remember….

Remember=”to have or keep an image or idea in your mind of (something or someone from the past)”; “to cause (something) to come back into your mind;” “to keep (information) in your mind;” or “to not forget something.”

This morning I woke up and immediately began to “remember.” Five years ago today, the earthquake struck in Haiti. My friend Renee (we worked at Bible camp together), her husband Ben and Ben’s cousin Jon were in Haiti when the earthquake hit. Ben lost his life that day. It is believed that his last words were breathed as he sang the words “God’s peace to us we pray” and then it was silent.

I was in Gettysburg Pennsylvania that January day. I was a small group leader for the Diaconal Ministry Formation Event (all diaconal minister candidates are required to do the formation event.) My small group and I were talking about prayer that Tuesday morning when one of my students said she wanted to share a song with us. She pulled it up on her laptop and we strained to listen to this beautiful song. The song was song by Jon and Ben and talked about “hands parted after prayer like cups raised to receive.” (The words were  words of a poem that a seminary classmate wrote). So that morning we listened to the song and than later that afternoon we found out that the earthquake had taken place. Immediately my IM box was popping up with messages from friends letting me know that Ben, Jon, and Renee were in Haiti for a J-term class and that they had not been heard from yet.

For several days after, as you can imagine, there was much confusion. On Thursday morning, one of my students and a dear friend called and asked me where I was. I told her my hotel room and she asked if she could come to me. The minute I hung up the phone that morning I knew that something was wrong. Shera came to my door and informed me that it was confirmed that Ben was gone. We cried and held each other. We proceeded to breakfast where we were asked by the rest of our group if we had heard anything. Shera couldn’t get the words out. I was on auto-pilot and all I could keep repeating was “Ben’s gone.” From breakfast, we gathered in the chapel and worshipped together. When it came time for communion, tears welled up in our eyes as we recalled the words from the song we had heard just a few mornings before “hands parted after prayer like cups raised to receive.”

After worship, we all went to our small groups. My small group was in charge of leading worship that night. The girls decided that they still wanted to continue with our original plan; to sing the song “Freedom is Coming” etc. We made one small change; to play Ben’s version of Psalm 30 as individuals entered into worship that night. “Weeping may come for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Now you understand why this verse has become one of my faves). The next day, at the airport, we found a blog post where someone posted Ben’s sermon from his senior year at Luther College. It talked about how the song “Freedom is Coming” was one of the most influential songs in his life. (Anyone else get goosebumps. I know I did that day…and still do!)

It is hard to believe that it has been five years today since the earthquake hit. I found myself waking up this morning. My cell phone clock confirmed today as January 12th. Grief has a way of swooping in and declaring to us the date even before we realize what day it is. Today I was reminded of that again. Immediately I took a breathe and began remembering.

And throughout the day I was continually reminded of the promise of hope and Resurrection. A couple of friends texted to say they were thinking of me today. I went to start my car this morning and an envelope was taped to my driver’s side window. I opened the envelope. Inside was a note talking about how it wasn’t it much but hopefully it would brighten my day. With the note was a McDonalds gift card. Then from there, I got to spend the day with one of my dearest friends and dear colleagues as I headed to our YouthWorkers meeting. We spent the day talking about the ELCA Youth Gathering this next summer and tips we wished we knew when we went for the first time. Tonight at Curves, I shared the story of Ben, Renee, and Jon and the promise of hope and Resurrection.

And today Renee and Jon are married and expecting a baby. What a beautiful promise of hope and Resurrection! Ben’s music still lives on. (Check out the website Ben Still Sings) Another reminder of hope and Resurrection! And for me Psalm 30 especially Ben’s version will always hold a special place in my heart. It is currently playing as I type this post and it is such a breath of fresh air for my soul. It is a song that continually reminds me of the power of hope and the power of Resurrection. (However sometimes grief does sneak in and cause the tears to flow…today is one of those days)

Mourning into Dancing (Click here to listen to Ben’s version of Psalm 30)

Dear Grief….

I will be linking up with Kate Motaung on her blog this coming Monday. In conjunction with the release of her E-book Letters to Grief, Kate is asking us to blog on, “If you were to write a letter to grief, what would you say?” So here is my letter….

Dear grief,

You find a way into my head and my heart especially during this holiday season. I am reminded of all the wonderful Christmases we had at Grandma and Grandpas, but now they are both gone. My heart aches as I want to talk to my Grandpa and bend his ear as he was such a wise man. I want to hug them both so tightly again. It has been 8-10 years since they have passed but I miss them each and every day!

But the reality, grief, is that I don’t just experience you through the death of a loved one. I experience you through the loss and grief of a parent who lives each day with a mental illness. I love spending time with Momma, but there are so many things that you try to take away from me. You make me angry when I wonder who will hold my hand and go with me wedding dress shopping when I find that Mr. Right. You make me angry as I yearn for the days that I can carry on a longer conversation with her. You try to take away my hope; my hope of sharing grandchildren with her. You also have a way of taking away all of the sparkle I feel when I am with her. I cannot even begin to tell you how many tears you have made me cry; tears that are so heavy; so heavy that you take my breath away.

And as I think about these things, grief, I realize that you are the one who is in control most of the time. And I don’t want you to be in control. No, I need you not to be in control! I want to treasure all the time I have with my Mom. I want to talk to her about boys even if she maybe won’t be able to go wedding dress shop with me. And I realize that one way or another, I will have someone special with me to share in those precious moments with me. I want her to become a Grandma because I know that is something she dreams of and yearns for so deeply.

Grief, yes, most of the time, you are the one who is control because you fill me with such anger. But today I am choosing not to let you diminish my hope. Because grief; my old friend, I am not going to let you have the final word. But rather am going to let God have the final word.

“Weeping may come for the night, but joy comes with the morning!”–Psalm 30:5

A Special Companion for Mom

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”–Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Pets hold a special place in our heart, don’t they? My sister and I have had many pets throughout our lives. My sister had a cat named Butterfinger and I had a cat named Rocky (named after Rocky Balboa. Our Dad came up with that name!) Butterfinger and Rocky were wonderful pets. My sister currently has two cats: Oreo and Tigger. Also after Mom and Dad got divorced, we decided that it would be a great idea to get Mom a special companion. Her special companion was a beautiful white fluffy cat named Marshmallow.

Marshmallow became such an important pet in our lives. She kept Mom company when Mom was alone. And when my sister and I came to visit Mom, Marshmallow was ready to play. She loved playing with Christmas wrapping paper and ornaments on the Christmas tree. I’m pretty sure she knocked Mom’s baby Christmas tree over a few times. Marshmallow also loved running circles in Mom’s house too. Marshmallow lived with Mom until Mom moved into the nursing home. Then she moved in with my sister until my sister started college, then Marshmallow moved in with our aunt and uncle.

Me, my sister, and Marshmallow
(I am the one in the orange)

This evening (Monday night) my sister and I got a text from our Aunt letting us know that when Uncle B came home from lunch, he found that Marshmallow had passed away in her sleep. 🙁    Marshmallow has lived a good life. My sister and I figure she was somewhere from 15-20 years old meaning she lived way beyond what cats are expected to live. I am not looking forward to telling Mom the news about her special companion, so prayers for that conversation would be much appreciated.

Marshmallow posing for the camera
(One of my sister and my fave pics of Marshy)

Rest in peace, dear Marshmallow! We love you!

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God Is Holding You!

First off, I want to begin by saying “Thank You” to all of you who prayed for my friend Karen and her family who I wrote about in my Day Six post. Karen died peacefully yesterday. Please continue to pray for Karen’s family and friends as they grieve her loss. “Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lords”

Secondly, I opened up my Timehop this morning and came across a video my dear friend Sarah shared with me when I was going through a difficult time in my life with my mom and the illness. I decided to click on the video link again this morning. These words are so powerful and I hear them speaking to so many of you who are struggling. The video is called “Arms that Hold the Universe/Promise of A Lifetime.”  This verse from the song really caught me this morning: “I know it seems that this could be the darkest day you’ve known, but believe you me the God of strength will never let you go” as well as this verse: “The Arms that hold the Universe are holding you tonight.”

Yep, my dear friends and readers, God is holding you today…holding you in the midst of your joy, but especially in the midst of your sorrow. God is holding you in the midst of the light, but most especially in the midst of the darkness. And when it seems your world is falling apart, God is holding you most especially there too!!! “I know it seems that this could be the darkest day you’ve known, but believe you me, the God of strength will never let you go!”

I think I will leave it at that for today. Have a blessed Sunday friends!!

 
 
 

A Whole New Perspective

This verse is a verse that I often turn to when someone passes away….especially when the death is unexpected. I turned to it when my friend Renee lost her husband Ben in the Haiti earthquake. I turned to it when people I love have left this earth. I even turned to it when Mom was laying in the intensive care unit my senior year of college.

In the last month, a dear seminary classmate and friend received the word that she has cancer. The cancer is progressing fast. Hospice has been called in and honestly, she is in the final days of her life. So very hard to utter those words or even type them on a screen especially when I spent time with Karen and her BFF Barb this summer at the Lutheran Academy of the Rockies. Karen’s daughters have been keeping everyone updated on their Caring Bridge website which is a beautiful reflection of their relationship with their Mom.

This morning’s post brought tears to my eyes as I read about Karen’s daughter Kris taking care of her. Kris mentioned how everything is coming full circle. As a baby, Karen cared for her infant daughter Kris and now Kris is caring for her Mom in the same way; bathing her, feeding her, etc. Life has a funny way of turning full circle on us, doesn’t it…life and death, life and death, life and death!

Kris’s words shed light on what it means to care for those we love; for life to come full circle and to grieve when we need to grieve.As a daughter of someone who daily lives and struggles with a mental illness, at times, I have found myself having a hard time holding onto the “rollercoaster” of life. The rollercoaster doesn’t give us any warnings and let us know when it is going up or coming down! It is very scary to hold on, be vulnerable and share our story with those near and dear to us. Yet sometimes that is exactly what we need to do….hold on for the ride as unpredictable as it can be.

Today I am thankful for Karen and her family; what she has taught them and what she continues to teach them; and for the love she has shown them and continues to show them. I am thankful for Karen’s friendship and all those who have been blessed by her friendship.  I am simply thankful for Karen…yet my heart is sad too!

And as I read and listen to Karen’s daughters words, I am reminding myself to continually show love to all those who are near and dear to me; especially my momma. In the midst of Mom’s illness, I will care for Mom in the ways she needs me to care for her even when I am tired and weary. I will sit on her bed when she needs me to and hold her hand. Because she cared for me…there are times when I will need to care for her as well!

The beauty is that God is with us in the midst of life and death especially when it is so very hard for us to cling to the promises God bestows upon each of us. As Karen lives her final weeks, days or hours of life, I can’t help but be reminded of the promise of the Resurrection. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes about Easter from Charles W. Hall “Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there.”

“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete.”-Philippians 2:1-2

Teach Us To Pray

During my seminary days, one of the classes I took was on “Loss and Grief.” For the class, we had to write a paper on loss and grief. I chose to write my paper on the “loss and grief associated with mental illness.” In my research, I came across a book that talked about how many churchs have so many board and care facilities for those who daily live and struggle with mental illness in the “shadows of their steeples.” That phrase has stuck with me over the years. What if we did a better job of caring for and even praying for these individuals?

In my own experience, I have seen the power of prayer at work. So much so, that my Lenten practice the last several years has been to pray through my Facebook friends list for Lent. Prayer is a powerful gift! I am reminded of one of my favorite Bible verses from the book of Philippians. “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6).”

Growing up, prayer was important to me but it truly wasn’t until I graduated high school and went to work at SuperAwesomeBibleCamp that I realized how essential and vital it was to my life. It also was this holy place where I discovered that writing poetry was, for me, a form of prayer. (I have always been a writer but it was here that it took on a new meaning and purpose for me!).

In February of 2001, Mom had a huge setback. Her lithium (a drug she takes for her illness) level got too high which caused her kidneys to shut down. (And if you remember from the last two posts, she has lived in a assisted living/nursing home since then). I was sitting in my dorm room when I received a phone call from the hospital at about 10 pm. I knew that it couldn’t be good news because it was after ten pm. They proceeded to tell me that mom was in ICU. After I hung up the phone, I went downstairs and sent a prayer request email to family and friends asking them to pray. I knew that I could count on them to pray for Mom and my family. I wasn’t in my room but a few minutes, when my dear friend BD (or as I like to affectionately call him “the little brother I always wanted”) called me. He prayed with me on the phone and even had me laughing a little by the end of the call. A holy prayer moment I will never forget.

Mom has been quite healthy for awhile, but I always find myself praying for her happiness, her wholeness, and so much more. This past August, I found myself turning to my “prayer warrior friends (a group of three dear friends plus me). I received a phone call saying Mom just wasn’t herself. They ended up bringing her to the town where I live. I met them at the ER and I asked my friends if someone could come with me. I have spent sometime in the hospital with mom over the years, but I still don’t feel the most comfortable going there by myself. My friend E was able to come with me. My friend E sat with me in the emergency room and prayed with Mom and I. Even as she was admitted, I found myself clinging to the prayer “The Lord’s Prayer” we said together that evening. It was hard to see Mom sick because she hadn’t been in the hospital for so long (at least 5 years). Now Mom is home and doing so very well. But it was those “prayer warrior friends” prayers that got us through that night and the next week. Another holy prayer moment that I won’t soon forget!

As the daughter of someone who daily struggles with a mental illness, I appreciate and acknowledge how important prayer is, but I also know how important it is to seek proper medical care. Yet prayer is a gift that can bring hope to those who daily struggle with mental health issues. As my friend  and I sat in the emergency room with Mom and prayed the words to the Lord’s Prayer, I could see that those words were bringing comfort to her.

“Our Father..who art in heaven…hallowed by thy name…thy kingdom come…thy will be done….on Earth as it is in heaven…give us this day our daily bread…and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…lead us not into temptation….but deliver us from evil….for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen!”

 

For All The Saints…

Growing up I never experienced much death. I don’t remember attending a funeral with my parents. I do remember others getting out of school for a grandparent or another family member’s funeral. I remember thinking I was fortunate to still have my grandparents etc in my life.

Then that all changed. My dad’s dear friend lost his wife. My good friend lost her mother. I remember walking into that sanctuary with my family. I remember feeling many raw emotions. My friend’s mom was so good to my mom; a dear friend who was always there for us and none she was gone. And like my friend I had many questions; What happened? Why did she die?

After that experience it was several years before I experienced someone in my life dying. This time it was my grandfather. I remember driving hours and many miles so my mom and I would be at the funeral. I remember seeing Grandpa laying so still in that casket. I remember crying and grieving the loss of this dear person in my life. I remember at the cemetery laying the urn next to his own mom and dad!

Almost five years ago, my best friend was laid to rest. I remember picking up my phone and hearing the words from her mom. I miss her every day. And then about three years later we laid Grandma to rest as well. And then over the last couple of years my cousin has had to lay her little children to rest as well.

In January of 2010, I wept and mourned as I heard about the Haiti earthquake. My friend Renee was there with her husband and her husbands cousin. And soon we learned that Renee’s husband Ben had lost his life. A life cut way too short. I found myself grieving for Renee but also grieving for the losses she would experience because of Bens death.

My heart aches…aches for all those relationships that have been lost. Yet I am reminded of the words to Psalm 30 “Weeping may come for the night, but joy comes with the morning!”

These beautiful saints are blessings in our lives and I am glad that God placed them in my life. I’m thankful for all that they taught me. And so today I say thank you for these saints in my life; these saints who now from their labors rest; Renee, Sam, Bess, Maia, Jack, Arlys, Mandy, Shan, Ben, Reinie, and so many others.

These saints have made a difference in my life. And there are so many still here who have made a difference too. So as another bloggy friend suggested, ” Who are you going to let know that they have been a blessing in your life?”