Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Of Shattered Vases that Lead to Light

 "Bad news," my husband tells me upon my return from work.  (Isn't that always a favorite way to be greeted?) " The kids broke the vase that held your mom's marbles."  I wonder if years prior I would have made a funny quip about losing my marbles.  But loss doesn't hold humor anymore, and when it comes to stuff associated with my mom, it's particularly painful.  Why did I imagine I could have a glass vase anywhere in proximity of my kids?

We make the ill-considered decision to go to the thrift store as a family to see if we could replace it.  We also find some things for my newest venture (another day, a different story) and get those in the cart as well.  When I find a couple of vases to replace the broken one, I balance them precariously near the top of our cart, because.....I have no idea why I did that.

It's a half-off day at the store so the line to check out is very long.  I get in line with the kids and like a squirrel, I wander a few feet from the cart to look at something.  There is a terrible crash and clatter and Vivian is screaming.  I look to see that the entire cart toppled on it's side right on top of her. Also, both the vases spilled out, shattered, and left broken glass all around her.  On top of that, she is barefoot because she removed her shoes for mysterious reasons.  It's a horrible moment: the loaded cart, the glass, Vivian crying and pinned down under it.  I swoop to try to fix it.  I feel a dozen eyes on me-none feel friendly.  We have made a spectacle.  Is she ok?  Where are her shoes?! How did this happen?  It feels bad and embarrassing and I so want to be out of this line of strangers frowning at me with a look of scorn and--is that contempt?  Wow.  This does feel bad.

One of the cashiers comes over with a broom and trash and I beg him to let me do it.  Don't give these people any more reason to be annoyed.  Please just go and keep checking them out, I plead.  Bill moves ahead with the kids and our cart.  I keep sweeping up glass.  So. much. glass. But then, this story gets worse.  Just as I'm almost done, I ask Landon to return a white board I don't want anymore. As  he quickly removes it from the cart, the remains of the two vases (that Bill had put there without my noticing) get flung out of the cart again and shatter.  Again!  This is not the 7 pieces of broken pottery you dropped on tile.  This is a hundred thousand glints and bits of glass flung across a wide circle, even flying up on the feet of the woman waiting in line behind us.  She mutters.  I moan.  "This is a nightmare," I say out loud, because I can't believe how this is playing out.

Bill gets the cart and the kids checked out.  And still I'm sweeping. Under the clothes rack. By the jewelry case. This mess is in the way of people trying to come into the store.  Some pass without remark, but others stop to watch and "helpfully" point out specks and sparkles I have missed.  Did I put helpful in quotes? I'm sure they were being helpful, but I think I was too mortified to feel it.  The fright of seeing Vivian under the cart, the shame of my parental neglect, the drama of glass flying through the air and shattering into shards bent on colonizing this entire store....

I am weary.  It was meant to be a simple validation that though my mom is not with us here, our memories remain, intact and cherished, like marbles in a lovely vase.

Instead, the whole thing served to suggest that my life is chaotic and humiliating. That nothing lasts, and loss is permanent.  And all those shards of glass? Just the pieces of my broken heart that I'm sweeping up in front of strangers who don't seem all that kind...

Yes.  Sometimes when I'm sad I jump from sad to full-blown melodrama.  (But even when I'm being melodramatic the pain is still real)

So then we go to church the next day.  And isn't Jesus kind?  THIS is the song that brought me to tears:

Wound? What happens to the light when our heart shatters?  I think sometimes we just have to sit in the light, though it is painfully bright and we feel raw and weary.  He could sweep up all my parts and pieces.  God calls himself a potter.  I can trust that he can fashion me into something stronger, useful and beautiful---these shards now will be the sparkle later.  And that's where His light will shine through me.

Monday, April 30, 2018

When Grief Leaves You Dry

Last night, I ran into a friend I haven't seen in a long time. In our conversation, she mentioned how much she loves to read my blog, and complimented it generously.

Blog? What blog?  I don't write here with any regularity anymore.  It seems all my words have run dry.  I logged into it this morning, just to see how the old gal was holding up, you know, nothing more.  I found an unfinished post among the many unpublished drafts that helps me understand why.  I didn't write it to try to explain why this blog has seemingly withered, but sometimes I think the answer appears even when we didn't know the question.

So here's the draft that got me thinking:

We went to Arizona for Thanksgiving.  It was our first extended road trip with all five of us, and long enough (14 hours one way, by car) for all my kids to think we were headed to a new country.

They asked funny questions like what language would people speak there, and what food would we eat. When we got to Arizona and saw many of the same fast food restaurants and big box stores that they know from Colorado, they were startled and disappointed.  We had driven ALL day, fortified by snacks and audio books and music and, and, and!  I have to admit, I shared their disappointment.  I mean, I knew that Phoenix wouldn't be a moonscape of unfamiliar wonders, but I did want to feel like I had left my backyard.

The cacti saved it.  We don't have cacti growing along the highway in Colorado.  We don't landscape everywhere with it.  Darkness had fallen; the novelty of travel had faded.  We needed something to get us through that last 20 minutes.  When I started pointing out cactus with the enthusiasm I usually reserve for Christmas lights, the kids caught the wonder and started enjoying it, too.  

As we approached the city I felt compelled to give my rowdy bunch some pointers. Please don't rough house near the cactus.  If you fall into one of those, it will hurt. For a long time. The spikes are real. And sharp. These are not friendly plants.

Later we learned that a cactus can go for two years without water.  It's remarkable, don't you think? The forbidding spikes protect its internal source of water from animals.  I also learned that some species will even cut off parts of their own root system if the ground around it becomes too dry.  It will actually absorb all the available water and then shrivel up its roots to avoid losing any water back to the soil.  

You know I'm a big fan of a good metaphor.  I can't help but think that the cactus is a very concrete picture of what happens when we operate in scarcity. When I feel like there is not going to be enough (of anything--time, patience, money, love,) I start trying to protect my own supply.  I get prickly. Self-protective. Downright forbidding.  Maybe I lock myself in my room so that my family can't ask one more thing of me that I don't think I can provide. Maybe I don't put that family-nourishing outing on the calendar because I don't think I'll have the patience to do it.  Maybe I don't reach out to my friend who is struggling because I don't believe I'll have the compassion to listen without feeling sapped. I get sharp and irritable with the people closest to me because my soul is thirsty for living water.

And then this roots thing? Do I ever just cut myself off from who I am, my past, my sources of strength?  Instead of going deeper with God do I pull away and imagine

(that's where it ended and I'm going to pick up now)

 Instead of going deeper with God do I pull away and imagine that it's better to just conserve what I have instead of tapping into a never-ending supply? I forget that there is a never-ending supply.  Or sometimes, I just can't believe there is a never-ending supply.

When my mom died, a beautiful stream dried up in my life.  She was refreshing and nourishing in so many ways.  She was wisdom, and acceptance, and graciousness and kindness.  She was someone who knew me better than anyone (except Bill), and loved me more than many combined. In short, I knew Jesus a little better because I knew her.  

Since she has been gone, I have been in a conservation mode of sorts.  I'm not sure if/when more is coming, so it's risky to share.  More what?  Anything.  Emotional resiliency. Patience.  Joy.  

I miss my mom so, so much. In my grief, I think I have drifted farther from the true stream of living water than I realized.  I've been in a scarcity mode these two years, and as I've attempted to conserve, I've grown more prickly and self-protecting.  (Ask anyone who has been close to me; they'll confirm)

I don't think we're meant to be like the cactus.  Psalm 1 says the person who delights in the law of the Lord is like a tree planted by streams of water, yielding fruit in season, whose leaf does not wither.  I don't think we are meant to be in a constant mentality of conservation, but of abundance.  Generosity.  Flow.  Like my friend who can generously compliment a blog I haven't added to for ages, like my husband who can generously offer me grace for the umpteenth time my spikes are scratching him, like my friends who generously show up with pizza and smiles when I think I don't have the energy to be among people.  People planted closer to God are generous.  People free-wheeling in the desert have to conserve.

And here's the point at which I just have the abandon the metaphor and draw my own conclusion. Cactus can't just replant next to a stream of living water.  But I can.  I can draw closer to God and let his love flow through my life.  I don't have to wait for the rainfall of a Sunday service, the watering cans of love that my friends and family share, or even the stream that was my mom's enduring presence.

I just admit, I've been wandering around in some dry places.  
It's time to settle in closer to the river of life.

I'd like to be more like a fruit-bearing tree and less like a prickly, self-protecting cactus.

I think Spring is the perfect season to make the move, don't you?