Posts Tagged ‘creation’

(Another) One Fallen Too Soon

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Last week my cousin died. Her name was Melissa Zygadlo Thomas. She was 40 years old and leaves behind a dear husband and two young children.

Cancer.

Damn cancer.

I was glad I got to return home to Ohio to be at Melissa’s funeral. It was good to be there, to be with the family.

This was the first death in my generation on my dad’s side of the family. My cousins Michael and Phillip, who both died in their twenties, were on my mom’s side of the family.

So it was important to be there with and for my dad and brother and the others.

“It’s good to see you,” everyone always says at funerals, and we mean it more dearly than ever for the present loss magnifies how precious we are to one another, “but I wish it was under different circumstances,” we are always quick to add.

Different circumstances…I wish the circumstances were different–that our restoration to one another was not at Melissa’s expense.

I hate death.

I feel no need to cancel out or console this hatred of death. My grief will not be undone by some supposed higher consciousness of “death as part of life.” No, there is weeping and gnashing of teeth–real, and raw, and painful–because death is the end of life as we know it. And life as we (I) know it is all I know in any tangible way.

Oh, yes, there is the here-after, there is the resurrection of the dead, and there are all of the great promises of something else, more, better in the time to come. These promises run through the scriptures I cling to, the faith I hold dear. Yet these promises are of little consolation in the actual here-and-now of living this life as we know it without Melissa as we knew her…or Elaine as we knew her…or Phillip as we knew him…or Michael as we knew him…or grandparents and great-grandparents and Amos & Opal as we knew them…

I think I feel this inconsolable sense of loss–this hatred of death–most keenly with these cousins of mine–Melissa, Phillip, and Michael–because they died so young. I think of these as untimely deaths.

But, truth be told, I wasn’t ready for any of them. The world doesn’t make sense anymore since Elaine died and she was in her 80s–not so very young, but still she is gone too soon.

And Opal…I have not written nearly enough about Opal…her passing was far, far too soon.

Opal too died of cancer.

Damn cancer.

I still hate that Opal is gone from this life as I know it…that loss was decades ago…but even all these years later, there is still an Opal-shaped hole in my heart, my life.

Opal and her husband, Amos, were like grandparents to me in a time when my grandparents and great-grandparents had either passed away already or lived too far away. I could ride my bike to Opal & Amos’s house…my brother and I would go there and play checkers with Opal and drink Coca-Cola, poured from glass bottles into Tupperware tumblers–nearly as tall as the bottles themselves–which we first filled with crushed ice from the mystical phenomenon of a freezer with an external ice-dispenser!

And I don’t remember stories about Opal so much as just the unconditional love that radiated from her. My heart knows who she was to me and that memory of her is so deeply a part of me. But I don’t know if I can ever, ever capture her importance in words.

This is the hole that death leaves. Ones so dear, yet nothing we can say or recall–even if we had kept detailed journals of their lives as we knew them–nothing can resubstantiate who and what they were.

I’m still in my mind and in my heart pondering the stories I want to tell about Melissa. If I’m counting right, she was closest to me in age of all my cousins (on both sides of my family)–Melissa was closer to me in age than even my own brother who is only two years older than I am.

There were “girly” toys we played with together–things my brother turned his nose up at. There were chats about school, and boys, and make-up. There was this extended family that we shared that we tried together to make sense of.

When we were both grown and had become mothers, we had a few occasions to talk about parenting. I admired how at-ease Melissa was in her role as a mother. With my son a few years older than her firstborn, I was still trying to recalibrate life as a mom, but she was a natural. She told me once that she didn’t see much use for a lot of parenting books, but that she would just trust her instincts. But oh, how I myself had poured over so many books!

Yet, Melissa’s instincts and all of who she was as we knew her are laid to rest.

And even as I try to remember what I need to remember about her, the memory of her is all there is.

I know there is something else, more, better for Melissa, Elaine, Michael, Phillip, Opal…

As the appointed leader of a congregation, I have had occasion to conduct two funeral services for members of the church where I’m serving. And in these times, it is my job to point the people to the life that really is life that is promised to us in Christ Jesus. And I believe it full well. It’s just that I’m not afraid of the hope and grief commingling–neither diminishes the other.

Hope isn’t some salve we put on our grief to make it go away. True hope in the God of the universe doesn’t fill in the grief-shaped hole. The hole remains. Hope doesn’t need to fill in the hole in order to function.

And the hole has plenty of its own work to do and is not at all interested in swallowing hope.

Really, if anything, the hole–holding that loved-one-shaped place in our hearts–can be for us a well, reflecting back to us the glimmer of light and life and love of the one we’ve lost.

I just wish it were under different circumstances.

Still, it is something–even if not tangible.

And even cancer and death cannot take away the glimmer–even if our words fail us to do justice to the life of the ones we have lost–the glimmer of their memory is as real as breathing.

Oddly, it is in hating death–in feeling it so hard and true and real and deep–in despising death I can begin to love life harder and truer and realer and deeper.

I hate death because it takes what is precious–life–the lives of those we love.

I despise these circumstances because I love life.

And if life is worth loving, and worth living, if lives are worth remembering (and they are!) it is because the Author of Life–the Creator of all things in heaven and earth has made life good.

And the Author of Life knows every story that I’m forgetting–and even those I never knew–about Melissa, and Opal, and Elaine, and Phillip, and Michael.

I may not have Melissa’s motherly instincts in which to trust, but I do trust in God–my God, the Lord of Life. And my hope in the Lord of Life abides alongside my grief.

I trust that Jesus is greater than anything we can experience in our living, in our loving, or even in our losing and dying. It is as Jesus promises, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Oh God, into your hands I commit life as I knew it, life as I know it now, and life as I can’t imagine in the yet-to-come. Into your hands I commend the lives of those I have loved and lost too soon.

Rain, Rain, What Can I Say?

Artwork by Jennifer Clark Tinker Watercolor with gel pen

Artwork by Jennifer Clark Tinker
Watercolor with gel pen

It has been cold, wet, and rainy all day. And I keep telling myself not to complain because we need the rain.

It was only a few months ago I was fretting about drought conditions, worrying that we weren’t getting the rain we so desperately needed!

So, all day as I have shivered to the bone–I mean, to the bone, people–I have tried not to curse this cold, wet, much-needed rain.

I did complain a while about being cold at lunch out with my husband and son, but I was careful not to curse the rain itself.

“Mom, you really should bundle up more,” was my son’s unsympathetic reply.

I muttered something about not having a warm enough coat, but I did not curse the rain.

Out again into the rain to get into my car, I shivered yet again. Still I did not curse the rain. I blasted the heater as soon as I got my car running, hoping it would warm up noticeably on my way home.

Turning into my driveway, the rain continued its steady downfall. I braced myself for the moment when I would have to quickly gather my belongings and run into my home, trying keep as dry and warm as possible in that transition from car to house.

Then I looked up toward the bend in the driveway and I saw water streaming around the bend from up by the house. I wanted to curse, not the rain, but the gravel driveway that has ruts worn as river-beds.

My gravel driveway with "ruts worn as river-beds" Photo by Jennifer Clark Tinker

My gravel driveway with “ruts worn as river-beds”
Photo by Jennifer Clark Tinker

But then, the word of the the Lord came unto me. A verse of a Psalm sprang to mind:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High. –Psalm 46:4

 These streams of rain are glad tidings for our drought-recovering lands!

And so, my heart was turned from barely holding back curses, to delight. I sat back and laughed at my fickleness about rain–wanting it when I’m scared of drought but cursing it when it gets inconvenient for me.

I laughed at my shivering and my complaining. And I chose gladness instead.

Rain, I know you don’t need my approval. What else can I say, rain, but that I am glad for you streaming here this day.

Drought-Tolerant Faith?

 

Scorched trees near Bastrop, TX affected by drought-related wildfires of 2011 with dying grass affected by current drought.

Scorched trees near Bastrop, TX affected by drought-related wildfires of 2011 with dying grass affected by current drought.

I got to preach again last weekend, and although I was the one coming in to bring the word, I had an important word imparted to me about our present drought in Texas.

Now, you have to know that the summer before we moved here there was a terrible drought in the area. Livestock herds could not be maintained. Wildfires swept through the area. Even though we weren’t living here at the time, I’ve heard stories and seen pictures.

Growing up in Ohio, we had drought, but I didn’t understand the meaning of drought until I learned of what they went through down here.

It has had me scared, really. We’ve been behind on precipitation and have been under “burn bans” a good deal of the time we’ve lived here.

I’ve worried and wondered, what if it gets like it was back before we moved here?

Things were looking up over the summer. No burn bans meant I’ve had lots of my backyard campfires which I love. (Apparently according to a quiz I took online, my subconscious is obsessed with nature, so my urge for backyard campfires makes sense.)

But rain has not been coming and we are back under a burn ban…and inconveniently that means no more backyard fires…but more seriously, it has rekindled my worry.

When I was at church on Sunday (one of two churches I preached at that day), I made small talk before the service, “Have y’all gotten any rain yet up this way?” (I mean, the weather is always a good topic for small talk, right?)

But no, there hadn’t been much to speak of up that way. The next statement schooled me, “I guess we don’t need it. We think we do but I guess we really don’t.”

What could I say?

I wasn’t personally convinced, but I learned a long time ago not to argue with other people in how they size up a crisis they’re experiencing firsthand.

But then, after the service was over, I had a similar conversation with another person who said nearly the same thing: We think we need the rain. But we must not need it.

And I’m a little slow, so it took me hearing it twice over the course of that morning for it to have its full impact.

If it would have just been the one person who said it, I could have dismissed it. I mean, we need the rain because life and crops and all rely on it! And what is God thinking not providing rain when we need it? That’s sweet to let God off the hook like all that, but I expect a bit more from The Almighty!

But when the same sentiment was spoken twice, and both times it was spoken by people who lived through the major drought what with livestock and forests in danger and all…

Perhaps they knew something, they discerned something that I was missing.

In my fear and worry about the devastation I knew the last drought caused…and I had to face it, with my irritation about not being able to have my backyard fires…well, I was missing the really big picture.

But they knew better.

They knew to wait patiently, to trust that what we really need isn’t always what we think we need or what we fret about.

And my own worry and fear were once again exposed. Oh Lord, how many times must I need reminded of your provision? Of your goodness? Of your faithfulness despite what seems impossible?

In this way, I was among those who received a word that day I preached. Oh Lord, give me a drought-tolerant faith like theirs.

Finding God Just Seems Easier Some Places

Surf's Up at Lake Michigan

I got to play & frolic, sing & pray, and sit & think for long stretches of time out at Lake Michigan when I was there on my trip at the end of last month. It made me want to stay and stay and stay…

Here are some of my thoughts about what made it so compelling:

There is something about a great body of water that draws me to it, draws me to God, draws me out of myself. I just look out at that lake and I see such power—something so much bigger and more powerful than I am.

All of my cares—my worries—are eclipsed by the lake’s enormity. I don’t forget them but I see them in a broader context.

I see I am not alone. Because also? I know that the God who created that lake is even bigger—even more powerful—than that lake. And I know that God who is more powerful than the lake is also more powerful than my problems.

To read more, check out my new post over at Life & Liberty: To the Lake and Back Again: Thoughts on Finding God http://www.davidhousholder.com/to-the-lake-and-back-again-thoughts-on-finding-god-0613-jennifer-clark-tinker/

When Weeds Are Wildflowers

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It’s thistle season in Texas right now. The ranchers down here aren’t real fond of the nuisance of the thistles in their pastures. But looking out at the beauty of a field of thistles takes my breath away.

I’ve always been a little obtuse about the distinction between weeds and wildflowers.

As a kid I always lamented that we didn’t have more dandelions in our yard.

“They’re weeds.” I was told.

And in my subdivision neighborhood in the suburbs we all paid good money to have folks come out and spray our lawns to keep those weeds under control.

But I was the luckiest kid in my neighborhood because out beyond our back yard was a field–real estate that was a little less desirable because of its situation on a busy road. This field hardly ever got mowed and the grasses and “weeds” got to grow and grow.

In “my” field I had dandelions and clover flowers that got so tall you wouldn’t believe it. There was lots of Queen Ann’s Lace and there was a yellow flower that grew out there in abundance too–I never did identify it.

I know they’re all considered weeds. No self-respecting suburbanite would want them in their yard.

But I couldn’t understand it. They were glorious. That field was full of wonder and all the majesty of God’s creation.

I’ve often wondered, who decides what’s a weed and what’s a wildflower?

I mean, I get it that if you’re planting vegetables you don’t want some other plant taking the nutrients away from what you’re growing. In this way, even a vegetable out of place could be considered a “weed.”

But I loved my field and all the lovely wildflowers that grew out there.

And I love my thistles down here in Texas.

And I just gotta wonder about how hard we try to keep our weeds under control. I mean, if they’re not hurting anything, do we really gotta mow ’em all down and spray ’em into submission?

Then again, we humans are infamous for our need to control, well, just about everything…and everyone.

We best be careful though because otherwise we’ll miss the beauty of the wild ones.