Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Trusting Joy

Who can command and have it done, if the Lord has not ordained it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come? Why should any who draw breath complain about the punishment of their sins?

Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the LORD. Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven. We have transgressed and rebelled, and you have not forgiven.

You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us, killing without pity; you have wrapped yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through. You have made us filth and rubbish among the peoples.

All our enemies have opened their mouths against us; panic and pitfall have come upon us, devastation and destruction. My eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of my people.

My eyes will flow without ceasing, without respite, until the LORD from heaven looks down and sees. My eyes cause me grief at the fate of all the young women in my city.

Those who were my enemies without cause have hunted me like a bird; they flung me alive into a pit and hurled stones on me; water closed over my head; I said, "I am lost."

I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, "Do not close your ear to my cry for help, but give me relief!" You came near when I called on you; you said, "Do not fear!"

You have taken up my cause, O Lord, you have redeemed my life.

~Lamentations 3:37-58

Candelabra at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia

It has been a difficult season of grief this year, and the winter was long and cold. I have been
struggling with events/emotions/circumstances that aren't tweetable/facebookable/bloggable--this season has largely been not for public consumption. And yet, I process best through writing, and I am most accountable to my public writing. It was a bit of a mess.

On Ash Wednesday I told the story of a woman who lost her toddler son and her public lament in a post titled Seek the Lord and Live. In the writing of that piece, I came to the decision to blog daily about grief as a Lenten practice:
I come to Lent and there are 46 days of sackcloth and ashes. 46 days to repent and reLent (as my friend Wayne puts it). 46 days to release, to make room for joy, for transformation, for resurrection.
I have mostly stuck to this discipline. Occasionally I missed a day. Occasionally I wrote twice in one day. But this is the 45th post, and tomorrow morning's Easter post will be the 46th. If you are looking for the whole collection of posts, you can find it on my Lenten Thoughts page.

A few of the posts caught more attention:
Apology Accepted, 20 Years Belated
Awkward and Clumsy and Stupid and Old
The Time I Almost Got a Sister-Wife
Probably Heresy
At Least We Wore Pants

And a were barely read at all:
I Hate Figs Anyway
Mara on the Half Shell

It seemed like about 50 of you read the posts most days, and I have been grateful for your company. A quick shoutout to whoever you are in Slovania who visited the blog once during Lent--no idea what brought you, but glad to have you along. Mostly it was USians (NJ & CA in particular). I love looking at maps of blog hits--I always feel less alone.

Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico & Rhode Island
are apparently unpopulated

And of course, that is part of it--blogging as public performance is a way of keeping company, drawing attention, filling the loneliness that hits me hardest in the night. No need to lie about the obvious--and any pastor that denies a touch of narcissism is telling a big whopper.

But I have been touched by the private messages and interactions that have come from this time. Notes from people who find themselves also buried in unspeakable grief. Notes from people asking, "Are you ok?"

And the answer to that questions is not so simple. Because no, I am not ok. I have been shaken hard this winter. I have been forced to reprioritize myself. I have been required to examine my relationships and motivations with brutal honesty.

It's been lonely as heck. I've worn out a few close friends with the repetitive nature of my lament (which hasn't stopped me from lamenting nor them from listening: such is the nature of friendship). I think I've worn out some of you with the repetition of lament for 46 days. This what grief is, though! The relentless reenactment of sorrow. It has played out in different ways through these weeks. Sometimes I was sad, sometimes angry. The blog turned playful at times because the absurdity of everything overwhelmed me and I had to laugh. I blogged old grief with specificity and recent events with vagueness as best I could. There were a lot of references to cats; sue me.

But yes, I am ok. There have been joys along the way, and in every moment I could say with certainty that this season will end, unspeakable things will get resolved, and out of the death of some things will come life for others. As I said to a friend the other day, "ah well, who knows what space this will make for me? the spring will ease my grief."

I was reminded through this Lenten discipline of how much my life shapes my writing. But also how much my writing shapes my life. Lent weighed much heavier on my shoulders this year both because I was grieving AND because I was writing about it. By the time we got to the Service of Shadows on Thursday night, I was exhausted by all of the emotions drawn from me by this season. As we told the story of Jesus' death, and the candles were extinguished one by one, I let everything come together. The last candle went out and all I could do was weep and whisper, "Too much loss. Please don't die." For Mary's son, yes. And also for my own circumstances.

The Lamentations passage above is one of my favorites. I shouldn't love Lamentations as much as I do with it's ingrained misogyny. Verse after verse speaks of Israel as a despoiled woman--damaged goods--impure--willfully lost in sexual immorality. I don't always know how to find truth in this Bible of ours. But in the midst of my grief, I have been aware that while many of my sorrows come from other people's decisions and behaviors, much of my pain comes from my own iniquities and insecurities. Lamentations presents a people fraught with sin who are then turned to rubble by the ruthless actions of others.

We might lament--and surely we do--at the impossibility of changing other people, or even ourselves! But Lamentations, for all it's wretchedness in style, content, and metaphor, repeatedly offers this hope:

I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, "Do not close your ear to my cry for help, but give me relief!" You came near when I called on you; you said, "Do not fear!"

You have taken up my cause, O Lord, you have redeemed my life.

I think it's a fair question: what will redemption look like? But I have no doubt that this time of public grief has changed me. The Lord stretches out his hand toward me, and I still wonder if it is done in anger or love. Trusting joy has always been my greatest challenge.

The other candelabra at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia


  1. Oh sweetie. Yes. Trusting Joy is tough one. And I have been so little on the interwebs as they are, unless it is to answer a reference question (is there parking at the Pittsburgh Playhouse?). But I so enjoyed our Starbucks afternoon and I send you many lemon cupcakes. (I seem to be all out of Hot Cross buns.)

    1. Yes, Suzi! Our Starbucks afternoon was lovely. I will be back to your town, I am sure.


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