Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter Women...

Easter Women

Who handles the dead body?
Who dares, who wants to?
The Mary’s do, and Joanna and Salome.
--The body, almost an afterthought after the trauma.
Where have they laid it?

What with it?
Call the funeral home, the police, the coroner.
--slow down.
Don’t pass it by.
Don’t pass it up.
Have another look.
Take another prayer.
Take courage.
Stroke the hair,
The cheek,
The mouth,
Anoint it with aloe or with tears.
Fulfill this last task of love.
It will be your last chance,
To touch, to hold,
This precious body,
Warm or cold,
Ruddy or gray,
Limp or stiff...
This was your boy,
Your lover,
Your dear one.
The body goes to dust,
But you still have it a moment longer.
Linger with it.
Love it.
Don’t panic.
Fear not.
Peace be with you.
The Lord is with you.
The Lord of Life.
It may not seem it now.

~Brigitte Mueller

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The thing about loss...

The thing about loss is this:  It is not a learned skill.  To me, it seems the world tends to treat it that way.  It is not.

A while ago, I wrote about my driver's ed training and the lessons therein that have remained with me: get the big picture and leave yourself an out.  Another set of lessons that have remained despite the failings of my mind are things I learned during a semester studying death and dying and then training for hospice work afterward.  In my opinion, every single person on the planet could benefit from studying the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.

One of the first things she noticed, when she started her work, was that the doors of the patients who were dying were left closed and those patients had less visits from hospital staff than those who were going to survive.  People did not want to face death, even medical personnel trained to deal with it.  When it comes to loss and its companion grief, we are still shutting doors, still avoiding those facing it.

Another lesson I remember was how she taught that loss was loss, and that we navigate the stages of grief with "small" losses as we do those which are "larger."

Think of a time when you lost your keys and you were running late for work or to pick up your child from school.  You cycle through the grief of that loss:

  • There is no way I have lost my keys again!
  • I cannot believe I am so stupid to have lost my keys again!
  • If I find them, I promise I will _________. [The silent prayer to whomever.]
  • My entire day is ruined.
  • Well, I've lost my keys. I have to make other plans.

I am not trying to be simplistic about this ...  and yet I am.  We grieve.  Day in and day out.  We have loss all around us.  Things that derail our schedules, our routines.  Things that threaten our well-being.  Things that destroy our families.  Small losses.  Large ones.  We classify them that way.  Only loss is loss is loss.  We have to face each one.  We grieve each one.

Sometimes, I wonder why I have read no articles about the mass grief being experienced in America for the past few years.  Job loss is a loss whose grief can eat away at a person's psyche, particularly confidence and certainty.  It is a burden that grows day by day.  Its mark oft remains even when a job is found again and, Lord willing, financial stability regained.  The question looms in your mind of when it might happen again, rather than if.

It isn't just because there is a truth that if you have lost a job it is likely you might lose one again.  After all, down-sizing often begins with the last hired.  It is the fact that it happened.  Possibility became reality.

When a parent loses a child, he/she/they often become exceedingly protective of the other children in their/her/his life.  If it happened once, it can happen again.  That is the real cruelty of loss.  It makes the uncertain certain. It makes realities of the things we would rather never face in our lives.

I have written before about grief, about how it is a companions of sorts, with whom we learn to live. But, again, I would say that grief is not a learned skill.  It is not something to be conquered.  In a way, grief is like the old Adam within us.  We will never be free of him until we die.  Yet, by the grace and mercy of our triune God, we can live more through our baptism than we do by our grief.  The joy of our salvation truly is the best companion to help us in our grief.

Not only does God promise that in Him there is no darkness, or as I prefer to think of it, no darkness that the Light cannot overcome, but He also tells us again and again and again that He knows of our tears, of our weeping, of our grief and that He will, one day, turn our mourning into joy.  The prophets, the psalmists, the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is their refrain.

wounds bound
captives freed
sight to the blind
ruined cities rebuilt
shame removed
plowmen over take the reapers
mountains drip sweet wine
life like a watered garden
mourning turned dancing, to joy

The Creator of the universe, His Son, our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier, a trinitarian force the world will never understand, and yet a God who captures our tears in a bottle, who hides us in the shelter of His wings, and sings with joy over us ... over those whose nature fights Him and flees from Him at every turn.


In order to retain the Gospel among people, He openly sets the confession of saints against the kingdom of the devil, and, in our weakness, declares His power. ~BOC, AP, V (III), 68

There are some bits of our Confessions that I cannot hear enough.  That astound me so much the comfort of them is ineffable.  This is one of them.  Primarily because it is not about our strengths, about our worship, about our works.  It is about our weakness.

But back to the thing about loss.  It is not a learned skill.  And to treat it that way deepens its wound.

There are some things I remember well, few things.  One of those is the moment I learned how common miscarriages can be, twenty-four years ago.  I was sitting with a bunch of women missionaries, all telling their birth stories.  As the only single woman there, I was fascinated by my crash course on pregnancy and child birth.  None of what I was hearing resembled the Hollywood births I had seen.  Then someone told about her miscarriage.  She was talking, really, about the unexpected twins she had afterwards.  Until the day of their birth, no one knew she had two children in her womb.  The way she told it, her second child was a gift from God for the one who died before.

No matter what I think about her philosophy, right after she spoke, another woman told the story of her miscarriage and then another and then another.  They had all had them. I was stunned.  I had no idea.

So often the "comfort" given to those who experience loss goes something along the lines of: "You have gotten through this before; you can do it again."

Set aside the focus on the reliance on human strength (or the lack of clarity about just how it is that the person "got through it"), and what you left with is the idea that repetition makes things easier.

If my best friend lost her daughter, and then later lost her son, I am certain no one would comfort her with the fact that she survived the first death.  But we do this with miscarriage.  We do this with small losses.  We do this with great ones.

But loss is not a skill to be acquired.  Grief is not a companion who ever completely leaves, not a journey ever completed, until that day we go to our true home.  When Jesus wipes away the last of our tears.

For the third time in a calendar year, I have suffered the same loss.  I am, at the moment, rather felled.  I am numb and I am drowning in a raging sea of loss and fear and doubt and weariness and, yes, hopelessness.  Since last Thursday, I have heard, several times, "You have gotten through this before; you can do it again."  Those words hurt.

I have also heard, "I can see how that would be difficult for you." Those words hurt, too.  Oh, I know that they were spoken in sincerity.  But I do not want the other's understanding.  I want God's.  I want the Psalter. I want to hear every verse of doubt and despair, of weeping and fear, and of confidence.  I want to hear the faith I cannot feel, I cannot see, I cannot taste, and I cannot remember.  And I want to know that God understands where I am in the moment.

There is another lesson from Kübler-Ross that I have never forgotten.  It is about stories.

I believe I have written about this before.  But I cannot remember.  So, I will start with the end, rather than the beginning.  While studying for my Ph.D., I read The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination.  It is the first part of the book that I remember most.  Robert Coles is a psychiatrist.  One day he was talking to a mentor, essentially despairing about the efficacy of his work, the lack of his patients' progress.  His mentor's response astounded him: That is because you are not listening them.

I could hear the frustration in Cole's retort, probably sputtering with indignation, that listening was all he did all day long, day in and day out.  His mentor, nevertheless, told him to start listening.  So Coles set about trying to listen, even though he was certain he was already listening.  In doing so, he stopped listening to what he expected his patients to say or what he anticipated them saying, but to what they were actually saying.  And he began to think about what he heard.  Essentially, this was the beginning of Cole's work on the role stories play in our lives, how we navigate our lives by the telling of stories.

For me, it was a wild moment.  One that harkened back to the study of Kübler-Ross' work, but also one that opened my eyes to just how much storying was going on around me.  It was the beginning of my journey of listening to those stories, of trying to hear what needed to be said.  [I just ignored my own.]

Kübler-Ross talked about death stories, about the stories that we all tell about the death of our loved ones, our neighbors, our countrymen, our fellow humans.  We all have a story to tell about the deaths that impact our lives.  But not everyone's story is the same.

Take a couple who've lost their child.  Each has his own story.  Each has her own beginning.  Sometimes the story begins years before, months before, the day of, the funeral, weeks after ... do you see?  Do you understand?  When, how, why ... a skilled counselor will guide the parent through his loss; that is the vocation of counselor/psychologist/psychiatrist.  But we, as family and neighbors, we can listen to the story.  No matter how many times it is told.

Telling the story is difficult.
Listening to the story is difficult.
Waiting for it to be finished is difficult.

Grief is hard, brutal, ugly, painful.  It is an agony of body, mind, and spirit we would rather be kept behind closed doors.  But Kübler-Ross warned that each has a certain number of tellings necessary to finish speaking that which needs to be said.  If, for example, a mother needs to speak of the death of her  son 17 times and we only listen 16, all that listening is negated when we turn the grieving away.

"You don't have to go through that all again."
"It's time to move on."
"You have to let it go."

Not to be flippant about the Living Word, but if we are told to forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven, surely we can listen as many times.  The beauty of the body of Christ is that not any one of us needs to do all the listening.  Not any one of us is required to face all that pain, all that grief by ourselves.  Even counselors do not.  Yes, they might be the only one in the room with the patient, but all counselors have supervisors, mentors, back-ups.  They share the burden even if not the actual story.

The telling is a way of working out what is in our heads, in our hearts, in our spirits.  The telling is the path to the balance we need within.  The telling is not an acquired skill.  It simply is what it is.  The story of our loss, of our grief.

Just because a person has survived one loss or ten does not mean that person is ready or able to face another.  Loss fells us.  Loss fills us.  Loss skews our perspective.  Loss distorts our hearing.  Loss blurs our vision.

In a way, the need to speak of the losses in our lives--losses of security, family, health, balance, serenity, faith--is evident in both the specific words of the Psalter and in the quantity of psalms given to us to pray.

I know there is all this scholarship on biblical numbers and their meaning.  I confess sometimes I turn a bit skeptic when such is spoken.  Yes, there are clearly repetition in numbers.  But I have heard three as being the completeness in number; I have heard seven as being the completeness in number; I have heard twelve as being the completeness in number.  So which is it?  Frankly, to me, if you wish to talk completeness, speak to me of the number one hundred and fifty.

Were I some great computer nerd blessed with the added skill of graphic art design, I would find a way to overlay all 150 psalms, visually, so that we could see the repetition within them.  Repetition of thought and feeling, repetition of structure, and repetition of near words and phrases and exact words and phrases.  A multi-layered, color-coded, diminutional representation of the petitions found in the Psalter.

How long!?!
Why are you in despair, O my soul?
My enemies ___
Works of Thy hands
Save me!!

In many and myriad ways, the words of our hearts and mind and souls are presented, again and again and again in this collection of prayers that is the Living Word.  Written this way.  Repeated that way.  Quick prayers.  Focused prayers.  Sweeping sagas. Whirlwinds of emotion.  Shouts of praise. Whispers of fervent hope.

Many and myriad because we are known.

The thing about loss is that it is not a learned skill.  
The thing about grief is that it is not a learned skill.
The thing about living in a fallen world is that it is not a learned skill.

"For although the whole world should work together, it could not add an hour to our life or give us a single grain from the earth." ~BOC, LC, I, 166

But the one who Created us can!  He knows us.  He provides for us.  And, in many and myriad ways throughout the Living Word, He comforts us with letting us know that He knows we will struggle with loss, small loss, great loss, loss of health, loss of safety, loss of life, loss of hope, loss of our grasp of the certitude of His saving faith.

The Psalter is, to me, God's rather loud and long shout: "It's okay that you struggle.  I love you anyway.  Your weakness is why I sent my Son to die.  And the confession of such is how I retain the Gospel in this world."

I wonder why it is, then, that God can tell us that it is okay to struggle and doubt and fear and weep and yet we either shut the door on such in others or try to tell them something different.  God doesn't tell us to practice, practice, practice until we hone living in this world into a perfect witness for Him.  He tells us we will know trouble.  He tells us what we might think and feel in that trouble.  And He then gives us the hope and joy and confidence of faith that we need in such times.

In my opinion, those struggling with the wounds and grief of loss would be better off if we took a page from His book instead of trying to flip through ours.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Just another day...

We mark our lives by milestones:  First word.  First step.  First lost tooth.  First day of school.  Driver's license.  High school diploma.  Going off to college.  Marriage.  First child.  We mark our days by celebrations:  Mother's Day.  Christmas.  Birthday.  Graduation.  Wedding.  As people who live a chronological life, significant events in the timeline of our lives have special meaning, shaping and changing us as they come around.

But not all the significant events in our lives are positive.  Our lives also include accidents, illness, death.  We experience loss, divorce, betrayal.  We suffer assaults, wrecks, murders.  After all, we live in a fallen world.  

These events, though not ones noted for celebration, shape us, change us, as do the milestones and holidays.  In our time lines, for many of them, there is a distinct before and after in the person we are and the life that we live.  Noting them, marking these days in our lives, is not, therefore, something we should matter how much the world tells us otherwise.

First, we are thinking, feeling creatures.  This is the way that our Creator crafted us.  He imbued us with emotions, responses, with thoughts and reactions.  To have them, to allow them to happen, is as normal and natural as breathing.  To avoid them, to ask others to do so, is to go against the wisdom of our Creator, to deny our own creation.

For the mother who lost her son, the day of the accident and the day of his burial are ones that will always be with her.  As those dates roll around on the calender for her each year, they are most decidedly not just another day.

It is a rather unloving act, therefore, to shame her in her grief, to say to her in word or in action, that her grief over those days--be they three or thirty years in the past--is something that is wrong.  For those are the days that have shaped her, they are the ones that have changed her.  She had a son she could hold in her arms, walk beside, talk with, laugh with, weep with...and now she does not.  

Those who have such events on our time lines sometimes handle them with grace and sometimes with despair.  Of course, we long for grace more than despair.  Of course, we who have loved ones with such events on their time lines, wish for more grace than despair.  But in our wishing for grace, we must still allow for the despair...and everything in between.

Second, we must do so not merely because we are created with thoughts and feelings but also because it is in such events that Jesus comes to us, shapes us, changes us.  By and with and through the cross the Holy Spirit gives and builds faith, teaches us the magnitude of His forgiveness and mercy, and strengthens us in our weakness.  For our faith is a faith of reception and our theology is a theology of the cross.

For this very reason, we ought not run from despair, from anguish, from ourselves and in others.  We ought not to turn away from the hard things, from the darkness of this life.

"For in Him we live and move and have our being..." begins the 28th verse of the 17th chapter of Act.  In a way, perhaps this is how each verse of our lives should begin.  In Christ, we live. In Christ, we move.  In Christ, we have our being.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." we learn in the first five verses of the first chapter of John.

Jesus shines in our darkness.  Our being is in Him.

Two days from now is the first anniversary of the most violent event in my life.  It is a day my body has already felt coming.  A day that is written upon myself and my puppy.  Neither of us are "over" the pit bull attack.  Both of us are still felled by it in many and myriad ways.  We stumble and fall beneath the memory of that violence.  We struggle in our responses to others and to inanimate reminders.  Already several people have told me that it is "just another day" and that I should do my best to ignore it.

Only it is not.  I cannot.  And, if I could, I would not.  There are no words rich enough, full enough, to describe what I have learned of faith because of that day.  No, I would never choose such an event.  I wish with my entire body that it had never happened.  I fear and tremble still over the memory.  July 12th is forever changed for me.  I have forever changed.  And yet I am truly thankful and genuinely humbled at the gifts that my Good Shepherd has given me by and with and through this cross.

In my utter brokenness, when my world was little else but pain and terror, the Holy Spirit nonetheless worked mercy, grace, forgiveness, and healing in me.  When I saw nothing but despair, no end to the misery of my mind and body, He sent others to patiently read aloud the Living Word to me, to fill my ears with that which He could and did use to bring the gifts of Christ to me.  When I could not leave my home, He sent pastors to bring the body and blood of Christ to me and he sent people to help take me to the body and blood of Christ.  I sought these not because I had hope.  In fact, I had nothing, was nothing, could see nothing.  I sought them because the faith given to me through the hearing of the Word and in my baptism called for such, reached out for that which I needed.  The Gospel came to me, filled me, and sustained me, even in my blindness, even in my weakness.  The Gospel clung to me until I learned hope.  The Gospel clings to me now.

I fear Thursday.
I rejoice over Thursday.
I feel terrified and peaceful, discouraged and hopeful.
I am angry.
I am awed.

In all of this, though, I Christ.

Jesus shines in our darkness.  Our being is in Him.  Surely, therefore, in our lives there is no day that is just another day.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


We cannot live without longing 
of the memory of a verdant tree 
felled and chopped down, 
with its place now deserted. 

How much less 
can I live 
from the memory 
of you.

June 28, 2012

~Brigitte Mueller

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

And then there was one...

Two beautiful babies.  Two children created in the image of God.  Two lives, precious and unique.

Only one of them survived.

She is now a feisty seven-year-old, strong-willed and sure of her opinions. She lives life in a large way and most certainly has an interesting future ahead of her.

But what of her brother or sister here?

When her mother and father were looking upon this amazing photo of her, they did not think of her death.  What they saw was his promise, dreamed of the future he would have with them.  Would she like sports?  Would he play an instrument?  Was this a tom-boy who would be as intrepid a nature lover as her mom?  Or would she be deeply sensitive, thoughtful and deliberate as her dad?  Would he be besotted with trains as his father?  Would he share a love of writing with his mother?  They dreamed of a future filled with possibility supported by their love.

And then there was one.  Rightly so, the parents were thrilled that a child would soon be taking his or her place in their family.  Seven years later, that welcome has not faded.  In the best of times and in the darkest moments, a fierce abiding love surrounds that little girl.

But what of her sibling?  Her parents did not love her any less.  He was not any less welcome.  Her life matters.  His life matters.  Life. Death.  Loss.

Embryo. Fetus. Infant.  We like to begin to delineate life, order it, package it up, and make it neat and tidy.  We spend our lives making sense of the world, finding explanations for everything.  Eschewing all notion of mystery.

Toddler. Child. Teen. Adult. Senior.

We label and slot.  We organize and categorize.  We put everything in its place to that we can understand how things might be, should be, will be.  Those terrible twos, we expect.  The rebellious teen does not surprise us.  Nor does the frail senior.  We plod along the path of expectations of how life should be.

But what about the ones who do not fit the order?  We find them difficult to face.  The child who dies before his parents.  The child who grows up without his parents.  The child who is ill or disabled or otherwise challenged.  The child whom we never got to hold.

Pregnancy is fraught with landmines.  All those expectations.  All that advice from others.  The waiting and wondering.  The changes in body and mind.  The hope and dreams and fears and uncertainty.  We talk of babies.  We dream of babies.  We plan for babies.  Only not all babies live.

Miscarriages are widely believed to happen on average 1 in 4 pregnancies.  That is a harrowing, devastating statistic.  The women carrying those babies struggle with the death of their children in ways seldom understood.  They grieve in ways not always apparent.  They face people who tell them not to dwell upon the miscarriage, to move past the miscarriage.  The miscarriage.  The pregnancy is no longer defined by life, by the baby(ies).  Yet the pregnancy is also not really defined by death, by the loss of life.  It becomes the miscarriage.  For some, it becomes an event.  A happening.  A circumstance.  Yet, in reality, it is the death of a baby, the death of a child, that parents experience in all its agony.

Here, the parents had both life and death, birth and miscarriage.  There was not a successful outcome to the pregnancy.  Dreams fulfilled and hopes dashed. Joy and sorrow.

We need to allow parents the right to grieve, however this is to them. We need to respect all life, not merely that which is born.  We need to understand that often in the rush of excitement over a child born, we might be missing the child who was not.

Infant loss is a complex, heartwrenching issue.  For many, infant loss colors the lives it touches in ways not always obvious to the naked eye.  The pain and sorrow mothers and fathers bear over the loss of babies no one know may be hidden from everyone else in their lives.  Hidden agony.  Hidden confusion.  Hidden shame.  Hidden guilt.  Hidden longing.  Hidden sorrow.  And such is not merely processed and done, not eventually "over."

But God is the Author of all life and misses not the creation of a single soul.  Christ died for all, for the sinners and the sin that has wreaked such havoc on God's good creation that even the creation of life can be laced with pain and suffering.  And the Holy Spirit understands the secret groanings of our hearts, carries the words we cannot speak to Jesus, who brings them to our Heavenly Father, who deeply loves us and all lives created...not merely those who were born.

The second child above may be only missed by his family and their close friends here on earth, but in Heaven her life was celebrated, welcomed, and rejoiced by all.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Project Unbreakable...

Please watch. For me. For the survivors in your life...even though you may not know they exist. They are all around you.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Shadow Children...

the children 
we bore in our wombs 
but never our arms 
the children with whom we never share 
milestones, birthdays, photos 
sweaty heads resting on a pillow 
faces covered with chocolate ice cream 
racing to beat a player to the ball 
firsts of school, dances, kisses 
walks down aisles of graduations, of weddings 
no pictures, parties, ceremonies
no baptism, confirmation, communion 
they live with us, beside us 
we watch their shadow lives unfold 
God knitted them in our womb 
fearfully and wonderfully made 
but the stain of sin 
the corruption of creation 
kept them from the life they could have had 
they are our children 
every bit as much as the ones 
you place to your breast 
send off to school 
bandage knees and cool fevered brows 
cheer wildly at games 
console in your arms 
send off into the world 
they are our children 
living in the shadows of our lives 
where we cannot help but imagine 
their lives
where we cannot help but store 
their hopes and dreams 
where we cannot help but mark 
their milestones
their photos, their memories, 
a scrapbook we can never share 
the pages of which we flip through

~Myrtle Bernice Adams