A Matter of Life and Death

In my work as a veterinary nurse, I deal with death and grief on a weekly basis.  I watch families and individuals say goodbye to their beloved fur-babies, consumed by intense emotion.  The reasons for letting their babies go are varied, but each has the same result:  grief and sorrow.  Some handle the situation with bemused sadness, others with embarrassment and surreptitious sniffs and wiped eyes.  Still others embrace their sorrow, allowing themselves to be swept up in grief’s march through the room.  It’s not so different from human grief, albeit on a smaller scale.

Humans don’t have the gift of choosing when to end the life of a loved one (yet) when interminable suffering and agony are their constant companions.  Instead, we wait, watch, empathize, sympathize and stifle gasps of horror and sometimes revulsion at the naked, raw pain our loved ones must endure before finally being freed from their mortal shell.  

This week, a woman who was very dear to me, moved to her new address in heaven.  Her name was Aunt Jean.  She was not my aunt in any biological sense, but she was an aunt and so much more to me in a life sense.  She inspired me in so many ways.  After forty years in an abusive marriage, she finally found the courage to stand up and say “No more!”  She bought her own house, her own car and her life blossomed.  She blossomed! I was fortunate to meet her after her courageous departure from her former life, and I admired her so much.  What strength and courage to pull herself out of a terrible situation and make her life new!  She was in her sixties when I met her, but in her mind, her life had just begun.  

She is no longer here on earth, but her inspirational work continues.  I appreciate her ability to look life square in the eye and say, “OK.  I see you one divorce, and I raise you LIVING!”  And Live she did!  Alzheimer’s dimmed her final years, but she lived her life to the end.  I heard stories of groups of her nurses and care givers (from her living facility) calling family, crying in despair after learning of her passing.  Life without her will never be the same for many of us here on earth.

When I reflect on my life, I see a clear delineation between what was and what could be.  How will I face life?  What will I say in response to what I’ve been handed?  I hope I am as valiant and brave as Aunt Jean.  

Because it’s a matter of Life and Death.

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Afraid of the Dark–Part 2

I slept with my closet light on for years and years and years.  Even after I was married, I still kept that light on.  For whatever reason, sleep eluded me when my room was dark.  I created all sorts of shapes out of shadows, and imagined intruders lurking in every corner.  At some point, I stopped needing that light.  I was peaceful and relaxed.  And exhausted….we had adopted two kids two weeks apart from each other.  One was a 1-year-old that was navigating steps on her own, and the other was a newborn.   The root cause of my fears of the dark are unknown to me.  I never suffered any traumatizing event in the dark, but I was always afraid.  Now other shapes, shadows and intruders lurk in my mind to make me fearful.

I am afraid of the unknown:  of never knowing why,  of never knowing “what if,” of hearing “Never again” as an answer to my questions.  I am afraid more tangible things:  of being lonely and alone, surrounded by too many cats and dogs as I grow old, of eating nothing but casseroles and living to watch Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune every night, and of children shrieking in fear when they see me shuffle out to pick up the paper in my slippers, bathrobe, hair curlers and unplucked facial hair.

Mostly, however, I am afraid of what I see.  I am afraid to see couples holding hands, sharing a tender moment, laughing together, having dinner together, sharing stories together, traveling together, simply being together.  I watch from afar and I am utterly terrified that I will never know those things again.  

I began reading a couple of quick, daily devotionals and yesterday and today, they all pointed to one thing:  Thankfulness.

Each devotional pointed out verses, written by an author in great suffering, whether physical or emotional, and in each one, the author is reminded and reminds the reader that without thankfulness, nothing will improve.  One devotional even suggested that the more I make being thankful a part of my daily thought process, the more radical the changes I will witness in my life.  

Radical?  I think my life is radical enough as it currently stands.  Am I ready for it to be even more radical?  The Bible clearly tells me over and over and over to trust and be thankful.  

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:6-7).

Lots of things jump out here at me…but in shapes and words that are clear and comforting–not frightening and unknown.   God promises peace, peace no one can ever understand; God promises to guard my heart  and mind–nothing will get past him and lurk in the shadows; God asks for prayer (communication) and thanksgiving in return.  How hard is it to say “thank you?”

So much is happening in my life right now, besides my own personal growth journey.  My kids struggle with becoming adults in ways I never dreamed or planned for them.  My financial security is rocky on a good day.  My parents’ health is beginning to fail.  Life just keeps getting scarier and scarier.  But I must remember God is there, guarding my heart.  He’s got my back.  He’s watching out for me.  He’s never gonna walk away, distracted by someone else’s drama (isn’t mine enough for anyone?).  He’s watching over me.   I no longer have to be afraid.

My sleeping pattern has come 180 degrees:  I now sleep with an eye mask on every single night.  I can’t sleep at all if it’s not totally pitch black.  

I’m not afraid of the dark anymore.

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Don’t Forget To Grieve

Reading is life to me.  I have soared on countless waves of other’s imaginations, explored beautiful and strange lands, met fantastic and hilarious creatures, and have fallen in love so many times, I’ve lost count.   I have dressed like a princess, ridden horses like they were an extension of my body, and said exactly the right words at the perfect times.  I’ve ridden brooms and magic carpets, horse-drawn carriages and army trucks on a battlefield.  In a book, I’ve done it all! The thing that never ceases to tick me off, however, is that the book always ends.  There’s always that last page to be turned and the dreaded words, The End staring up at me, leaving me with nothing left but wanting to rewind the story and jump in the pages so as never to be without it again.  But the page always turns, one story ends and the next story unfolds.

This week, I realized that I have turned a page in my own story.  Instead of two dreaded words, there were many, many other words.  Each one holds promise and hope for a development I’ve not yet imagined.  I wonder how I will change, what I will do and say next, how I will face, and conquer, the next set of challenges in my path.  For now, the words are blurry, obscured by time and circumstances of which I know nothing.  Yet. 

One thing I always forget is this:  the characters usually look back at the past and mourn things in some way.  In the movie The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo and Gandalf are sharing a quiet moment of reflection.  Their conversation is brief, but powerful:

Frodo:
I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.


Gandalf:
So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work, Frodo, than the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the ring. In which case you also were meant to have it, and that is an encouraging thought.

That’s me.  I’m like Frodo, minus the hairy feet and short stature.  I wish this “ring,” my burden, had never come to me.  And I definitely wish none of this had happened.  But Gandalf, in his wisdom, set the record straight.  Who does wish hard times to come on them?   No one.  But once the pages turn and I read my story, it’s up to me to write the appropriate response.   It’s up to me to decide “what to do with the time that is given” to me.  
Things rarely work out the way I want them to.  Most often, it ends up worse than if I had just left things alone and let God do his work.  I wonder how many times he sighs, rolls his eyes, and says not again, Lynette!  But thank goodness he doesn’t ever despair of me, or turn away from me.  He lets me barrel through like the proverbial bull in the china shop, but then he  sticks right by my side and helps me pick my way through the shattered pieces of my actions.  He helps me leave the shop and step out of the detritus and brokenness into a brighter future.  He tells me that these events were meant to happen, and then he helps me turn my page.

Does this page turn, away from the mess of my life, mean I will live happily ever after?  That the past will stay in the past and I will see nothing but blue skies and fields of flowers ahead?  Not a chance. In fact, it’s important to turn a few pages back, to refresh my memory, to grieve.

My guardian angel/therapist struck again last week.  I was telling her how much progress I had made, how far I’d come, how many pages I’d turned.  She stopped and said, “Lynette, don’t forget to grieve.”

I looked askance towards her, and I waited.  She continued.  “Every loss needs to be grieved, and you definitely suffered a loss.   Don’t be afraid to do that.  It’s important for healing and continued growth.”

That concept is packed with freedom.  It frees me from the pressure to have “gotten over it already” and from being afraid of having a relapse.  That statement says I am free to grow, trip and fall, and get back up again.  It says I am free to turn the pages, both forward and backward.  And I’m free to make the most out of the time given to me.  I just have one thing to remember:
Don’t forget to grieve...and that is an encouraging thought.

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Afraid of the Dark — Part 1


“Thy Will” — Hillary Scott

I’m so confused 
I know I heard you loud and clear
So, I followed through
Somehow I ended up here 

Last week, I enjoyed the privilege of having my teeth cleaned.  While the hygienist scraped, probed, polished and made the occasional disapproving noises regarding my dental habits, I found myself looking heavenward.  With nothing to do but think (and spit when instructed), questions that hound me on a fairly regular basis crowded my brain.  How did I end up here?  Why did I make the choices I made?  Where would I be if I had done things differently?   These are not profound questions.  They are not even new ones.  But they are the ones that often scroll through my brain like ending credits on a Netflix show.    

I have to be careful how much time and attention I give these questions, though:  they line a slippery slope of thinking that sends me downward at alarming rates of speed.  And then I really begin to question.  And wonder.  And doubt.  

I don’t wanna think 
I may never understand
That my broken heart is a part of your plan
When I try to pray 
All I’ve got is hurt and these four words

Thy Will Be Done.

So I try my best to not consider the questions too long.  Instead, I think of myself and the things I have accomplished in my life lately.  I think of a photography contest I entered recently, and wonder if I have a chance to win.  Is he having lunch with her today?  I think of a vacation I’m taking next month with my sister.  Do my children like her?  I think of things I want to do with my house.  Is he going to buy a new house near her?  As you can see, I have mastered the art of turning my thoughts away from the difficult questions.  
I know you’re good
But this don’t feel good right now
And I know you think
Of things I could never think about

When the dark thoughts crowd my brain, I have begun reciting quotes, verses from the Bible, and articles I have read in order to calm the storm.  To Be Still AND Know!

It’s hard to count it all joy
Distracted by the noise
Just trying to make sense
Of all your promises
Sometimes I gotta stop
Remember that you’re God
And I am not
So
Thy Will Be Done.

Each day finds me stronger than the last.  Is it God’s will that I’m alone forever?  I know that my future is bright and full of hope. Why do I cry so much?  Eating healthy and regular walks on the beach have lead to weight loss and increased self-confidence.  I wonder if ice cream comes with this molten chocolate lava cake?

I know you see me
I know you hear me, Lord
Your plans are for me
Goodness you have in store
I know you hear me
I know you see me, Lord
Your plans are for me
Goodness you have in store
So

Thy Will Be Done.

Oh, Lord.  Why am I such a faithless creature?  I’m so weak and easily distracted.  I expect the worst then believe I deserve it when it happens.  I long for answers while simultaneously dreading what might come.   And through it all, even though I know you promise you will never leave me or forsake me, I shut myself off and feel alone, desolate, abandoned.  

And I am so afraid….

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Unplugged



Unplugged has become synonymous with anything that is acoustic, authentic, without pretense, real.  A musician sits on a stool on a small stage surrounded by a handful of people, with simply a guitar in hand and sings into the microphone without any additional instruments or sound amplification.  The music slows down and the atmosphere is markedly subdued compared with the usual tempo and decibel level of a typical concert.

It also means turning off, cutting off all access to energy, removing something’s connection from the life force it normally taps into.  As in a lamp, a phone charger…life support.

Yesterday I learned about a person I attended college with who suddenly and inexplicably fell into a coma several weeks ago.  His body simply began shutting down.  No one could figure out why he fell into the coma nor why he would not wake up.  Yesterday, his wife was forced to make the worst possible decision one could ever have to make:  they had to let him go.  They had to unhook him from all life support systems.  And he became unplugged.  

Being unplugged is devastating–emotionally, spiritually and physically.  It doesn’t really matter what you are coming unplugged from, because once the connection ends, and there is no more energy running between source and recipient, the fact remains:  it is finished.  

The finality of being unplugged is almost too horrible to bear.  I have prayed and sought God’s answer in whether or not I need to become unplugged from things in my life.  I have struggled, cried, questioned, raised my fist in anger, begged, pleaded and bargained.  I have always wanted to know one thing: Why?   God has not given me that answer.  Instead, I began asking, “Yes or No?” For the longest time, God did not give me that answer either.  It has been during these times that I have felt totally disconnected from God, unplugged from his life force and love and energy.  

I felt cold and lifeless, like a broken lamp stuffed in an attic behind Christmas decorations and camping equipment.  I felt discarded, packed in a box and delivered to a second-hand store to be left on a shelf for possibly years, gathering dust, occasionally picked up, but always placed back, never to be used again. 

I felt alone.

These past few weeks have taught me something pretty amazing, however:  It isn’t true. None of it.  While I am broken and unplugged, I have not been shoved anywhere, forgotten, or discarded.   The truth is, God has always been plugged into me. I just did not (or refused to) see it and know it.  

I asked a friend to pray for me last night.  His response touched the corners of my seemingly unplugged heart and created a spark.   He told me he had just seen “the coolest thing” in the Old Testament book of Kings.  He recounted the story of Elijah, a prophet of Israel, who was directed by God to go from place to place to place, always relying on God for sustenance, shelter and safety.  At each location, the Bible states, “after awhile,…” followed by descriptions of Elijah’s next move.  Elijah never knew where his next meal was coming from, where his next bed would be located, or whether he would be in safety or danger.  My friend pointed out that these “after awhiles” were all steps preparing the prophet for learning to rely completely on God to provide. Completely.  

My friend suggested that perhaps I have been experiencing my own set of “after awhiles” as God works in my life, preparing me for the next step, and the next, and the next.   Alexander MacLaren wrote these words:

Each of us may be sure that if God sends us on stony paths, he will provide us with strong shoes, and He will not send us out on any journey for which He does not equip us well.

I think I’ve already run through several pairs of “strong shoes” to this point.  I think I’m going to need more pairs.  

*****

When I started writing this post two days ago, I was full of hope and ready to embrace my next “after awhile.”  But for some reason, the ending was just not there.  I couldn’t seem to close the post.  Now I know why.  Since I began writing this, I have been faced with certain finality.  God finally answered my yes or no question. He said “No” and has given me the nudge to move on. This particular “after awhile” is over.

God’s “No” answer was exactly what I’d been praying for (an answer of any sort), and as I entered the place where I knew the answer would be, I even prayed, “God give me peace.  Help me be open to your answer, yes or no.  Help me hear you.”  I heard a clear No almost immediately.  While I’d love to say I handled it with grace, beauty and inner peace, the truth is, I was covered in tears, snot and lint from soggy, make-up covered tissues.  

After getting my answer, I sat in a parking lot at a national historic monument, waiting to meet a friend, and I sobbed.  I went through so many tissues, my nose was raw from blowing it, my eyes were red and inflamed from wiping them, and the snot…oh my word, the snot!  It doesn’t help when you have a moment like this right on the heals of a month-long battle with bronchitis.   So I sat in my car, surrounded by gooey, used tissues, and turned on my Christian radio station.  

Remember the part where I said God never stops being plugged in to me? 

The song on the radio was “Healing Begins” by Tenth Avenue North.  This priceless gem was followed by “Oh My Soul” by Casting Crowns, “Find You Here” by Ellie Holcomb and the last song in my parade of snot-filled sobs?  “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” with my favorite line:  Yesterday’s a closing door; You don’t live there anymore.

Okay, so God’s voice didn’t literally fill my car, but let me tell you this:  

I Heard God! 

I am so human, however, that I am still sad, and you may find the occasional soggy tissue (or 12) near me.  I fight jealousy, anger, hurt, and shame.  I fight bone-breaking sorrow and despair.  And I cry.  A lot.

But one of the many promises I have is this…God will never unplug his life force, his energy, his love from me, no matter how taut my doubts and fears stretch my cord to God.  When I feel God is silent, I just cling to this verse in Romans,

And we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Some translations say “in all things” and others say “everything.”  Regardless.  God is working for my good, which is just exactly as he planned. 

Unplugged?  Nope.  Never.  

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