Monday, November 29, 2010
As usual I wake up at 5:00 a.m. and cannot go back to sleep.
I finish decorating the house for Christmas.
I think it looks all right, but I don't have the same touch as Jan.
The grandkids come over tonight to help me decorate the tree and that will be good.
Thanks giving was a special day as the Sahlin's and Carlson's were together and it was decided to not have the usual turkey dinner this year. Instead everyone made one of Jan's favorite foods and we had that for our meal. It was quite a spread and I even contributed by making the palmini, one of our favorite Ukrainian dishes.
At the meal we were encouraged to take the initials of our first name and use those letters to trigger thoughts of thankfulness. Here is what JOHN brought to my mind:
J: I am so thankful for "Jan" and our 47 years together. My memories are so good and she made my life very rich and full. I am determined to be thankful for "what we had together" and not dwell too much on "what will not be" in the future. We had a good life together.
O: I am thankful for the "Others" in my life who have stepped up to the plate to support me with their presence, their words and the generosity of their time. I am so fortunate to have a wonderful family and so many good people in my life.
H: I am thankful for the "Homes" of each of my family members and friends and the warmth they provide me each time I visit. My own home has such a different feel with the heart and soul of it no longer present. My home is filled with wonderful memories and because of the unique decorating touch of Jan it oozes her character and personality. But sometimes those memories overwhelm and I need to leave my home and visit you in your homes. Thank you for making your home a welcoming place for me.
N: I am thankful for a "Name", the name of Jesus, who is proving to be my Immanuel, my "God with me". I can truly echo the translation of John 1:14 in The Message ,when rather than saying "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us", it says he "pitched his tent" in our neighborhood. Truly He has pitched his tent in my neighborhood and is living and moving in my life. I am reminded daily that I do not navigate my life without Someone walking right beside me and that gives me courage and strength.
Advent has begun...join me in walking with the One who has pitched His tent in our neighborhoods.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
So today I want to be thankful for "what was" in my 47 years with Jan:
**Thankful for a truly happy and solid marriage.
**Thankful for wonderful memories that flood my mind and warm my spirit.
**Thankful for the things we accomplished and the things we learned together.
**Thankful for the joy our children brought to our lives.
**Thankful for such wonderful grandchildren who bring such happiness.
**Thankful for the many friendships we enjoyed and how those friendships endure.
**Thankful for our church family and the support they provide.
**Thankful for the faith in Jesus Christ that we shared together.
I do have so much for which to be thankful and I am so thankful for each of you. Thank you for all the ways you have expressed love and support. I am learning to appreciate the "body of Christ" at a whole new level of depth and meaning.
To each of you I simple say HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
May God richly bless you today.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Good morning friends...
In a few hours I will drive to Grand Rapids in northern Minnesota to be with my extended family. I have 3 sisters (all younger than me) and back in May my niece-in-law, Jackie, (wife of my middle sister's son Grant) discovered she had stage four lung cancer. Jackie had never smoked or done anything to harm her body, as she was a runner who took care of herself. But at the age of 40 this disease took her life and on Friday morning it took her life. She leaves behind her husband Grant and their 4 children and tonight will be the visitation at the funeral home and tomorrow the memorial service. I wrote a note that I included with my sympathy card and I want to share that with you this morning.
Over these past months Jan and I have prayed so often for you and Jackie. We have prayed for healing with a great deal of faith, knowing that ultimately she would be healed, but wanting that healing to take place in this life.
Now the two of us find ourselves on a road “less traveled” and a road that we wish were “never traveled” as we start down a path without our spouse. In the time it took for Jan to say “What is happening to me?” and the short seven months it took for cancer to take the life of Jackie; our lives have been forever altered.
I have been on the road for only a few days; but I have been learning some very important lessons:
· Jesus is a Loving Shepherd who walks the road with me.
· I am filled by the Spirit with the presence and comfort of God in my life.
· My children and grand-children are phenomenal in their love and support; and they give me reason to put my feet on the floor in the morning and look forward to a new day.
· I am blessed with happy memories of a truly great marriage and the wonderful woman I was fortunate enough to call my wife.
· My support group of friends and family are simply awesome.
· My church and my faith sustain me in new and deeper ways.
When your Mom called and said through tears: “Oh John, I have to tell you that Jackie is now in heaven with Jan and Jesus”; it broke my heart to hear the news. I was on my way to church for an early morning men’s Bible study and I had to stop the car and take some time to catch my breath. This morning I got to thinking about “what is heaven like right now because Jan and Jackie are there”? I think the two of them have got heaven buzzing with a new level of joy and enthusiasm and energy and love for Jesus. I take comfort in that, even though I selfishly wish that both of them were still here with us.
Please know Grant that I will be praying for you with the intensity of one who is traveling this road with you. We have a real learning curve ahead of us to understand how to navigate this road, but we don’t travel alone. We have two fantastic women cheering us on to make the most of life; and God the Father is leading the way; and Jesus walks beside us like a friend who is closer than a brother; and the Holy Spirit is filling us with the joy and comfort and peace of our Lord.
Walk with courage,
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
my mind is somewhat blank and a bit confused.
In so many ways I feel lost or disoriented,
like I need to find a compass to learn what direction I'm moving.
I've passed the two week mark since losing Jan and
I've worked hard to keep myself busy.
Lot's of time with my kids and grandkids,
Lot's of times over breakfast, lunch and dinner with friends.
I think that "busy is good" right now and
some day I am sure that a "new normal" will emerge.
My confusion is partly a matter of identity,
of understanding how to think of myself.
How do you go from 47 years of thinking of yourself as John/Jan
to thinking of yourself as John?
How do you go from planning life together
to planning life for yourself without input from your other half?
I relished the life of "oneness" with Jan and
now there is no "two" but just "one".
I sat down for lunch today with Lee and Carol and
looked at Carol and said "this is all you get...just me."
I maybe shouldn't have said that but
that impulsive thought expressed how I felt at the moment.
We were best men in each others weddings and
we've spent a lifetime together as couple friends.
That's part of my confusion as
now we still be friends but with a new configuration.
So I've been feeling sorry for myself and
I should know better than that.
Because I am not alone and
you keep reminding me of that.
You keep nudging me with the awareness of Your presence.
I open cards and letters that tell me "I/we are praying for you".
Margot calls to ask me to come to school for lunch with her and
she's checked the menu to find a day when she thinks I will like the food.
Joel calls to tell me about a guy in Polly's Island, NC who is turning his life around
after hearing of Jan's death and her love of The Starfish Story.
Julie calls to check up on me to be sure everything is okay and
our long conversation encourages and lifts my spirits.
Then Lord you keep reminding me that you are I AM.
"I" am the One who will never leave you or forsake you.
"I" am the Good Shepherd who walks with you through the valley.
"I" am the Comforter.
"I" am the Voice that calms the troubled sea.
"I" am the Presence that indwells you.
John's gospel tells me that you are the great I AM.
Thank you for being the "I am" in my life.
I know that eventually I will find my own "I am" identity
as I move through the learning curve of this phase of my life.
I AM GRATEFUL to call you my Immanuel because
you truly are "God with me" and you have pitched your tent right next to mine.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
I had asked for 7 chairs to be graveside...6 for my grandchildren and 1 chair for me. I sat in front of my grandkids and told the adults I would be talking just to the grandkids...but they were welcome to listen in on what I said.
I had prayed very hard to find the right words to say to help them understand what had happened to Amma...and decided to use an illustration that is not original to me but that I gave my own twist just for our family.
I asked the grandkids to take a gloved hand and pinch their nose, pull on their ear, tickle themselves under the chin...etc. Then I had them take their hand out of their glove and lay the glove on their leg. Then I told them to make the glove on their leg pinch their nose, pull on their ear, tickle themselves...etc. It was fun to watch them wiggle their legs or just look at me in a confused way. Then I had them put their hand back into their glove and repeat the exercise.
Then I showed them one of Amma's gloves and reminded them that when her hand was in the glove she used to pinch their nose, pull on their ear, tickle them under the chin, give them a big hug, etc. I also showed them that the love I held did not have Amma's hand in it and therefore it could not do any of those things.
That became a springboard for me to explain that Amma's body is like a glove and that inside her body was her spirit that gave her the ability to make her body move and laugh and talk to them and hug them. But when she died the part that was inside left her body and went to heaven. So here at the graveside we are thinking about Amma's body(glove) and we say that "Amma died"...but we really should be saying that "Amma is alive"; because the part of her that was inside her glove is now in heaven.
I closed by asking them to remember when they came to our house and one of them would ring the door bell and Amma would come to answer the door. When she opened the door I said: "Remember how excited she was...how happy she was to see you...how big was her smile...how she gave you a hug and told you she love you? Well that's what happened when Amma went to heaven. It was Jesus to opened the door and he was excited to see her and he had a big smile on his face and he welcomed her to her new home." It was talking like that which seemed to help the grandkids and they were listening with real interest.
We had a basket of individual roses with us and I invited everyone to take a rose and instructed them to find a space around the casket. We then each took as long as we wanted to meditate, pray, talk to Jan, talk to the Lord...and when we were finished we placed our rose on the casket and then stepped back to wait for everyone to finish. It was a very personal, touching and emotional time that meant something special for each of us.
I then closed our time with a prayer that included a prayer of committal. I have done these committal services so many times as a pastor, but it was a totally new experience to do this for my wife. God gave us all strength and I believe the family time on Wednesday and the service at the graveside have served us well in our grief and prepared us for the visitation that evening and the Memorial service on Friday morning.
That afternoon we all met at the funeral home to set up displays of pictures and remembrances of Jan. Each of the grandchildren had made a poster and there was a big bowl of chocolate hug kisses along with flowers. That evening we would see some 500 people come to visit with us. It was an overwhelming display of love that impacted me deeply and showed the degree of love and respect with which Jan was held.
I closed the evening by suggesting I was going to talk about some things that they might not have expected. I said: "I am going to talk about the things that 'bugged' me and sometimes 'frustrated' me about Jan." I explained how that morning I had sat down at my computer to make a list and quickly had 3 things on the list and then my mind went blank. I printed that out and sat down in my favorite chair and wrote down the number "4" and thought of one more thing. I then wrote down the number "5" but was never able to think of another thing. I would come to understand in the early stages of my grief why that was a short list.
I talked about the 4 things on my list:
1. How Jan was never able to get herself out the door on what I thought was a timely manner. My pattern was to get dressed early when we were going out and then once ready spend time reading a book or something until we needed to leave. Invariably I would say to Jan "how much more time to you need" as we neared the agreed on time to leave and when she told me "3 minutes" or another "5 minutes" I would grow frustrated knowing that she was a terrible estimator of how much time she needed and it was going to take longer that she said. We always got to where we were going, not necessarily at the time I had hoped.
2. Jan was a conversationalist who enjoyed talking with me and her friends. Every night she would be on the telephone talking with kids, grandkids, her sister and friends. When talking with me she would often share things we had talked about before and I came to understand that if there was "emotional content" to what she was sharing; she had a need to talk about it with some frequency until it was resolved. I made the mistake a few weeks ago of saying "Yes...you told me that a couple of days ago" and that did not come across as a loving statement. If I really loved I would understand that she had a need to talk about this and I would be a better listener. I am afraid that at times I was a frustrated listener.
3. Jan was most comfortable when she was in control of her calendar and she was the social secretary and planner of our lives. I often wanted to be more relaxed about things and "go with the flow" but she was most at ease when what we were doing was planned in advance, rather than letting events and invitations come to us. She liked to start or end the day by sitting down and going over the calendar with me...sometimes reviewing things that we had agreed to a day or two before. I guess she wanted to be sure that I did not forget what was happening, but I felt I didn't need to remember everything, because she had that part of our lives under control.
4. Jan loved to entertain and sometimes I would be frustrated about the style of our entertaining. Jan felt that whoever came over had to be entertained in the same way we would do it for the King and Queen of Sweden. Everything needed to be in place...planned with great care...and the house needed to look perfect. We have a joke in our family about asking Jan "what time do we need to be standing at attention" when doing entertaining...ready to entertain in a style that she required. I must confess to times of frustration when trying to do things right and getting things to look perfect.
I then went on to tell the family I was a bit surprised that only 4 things came to my mind as I am quite sure there must be other things that caused frustration at times. But I had learned something in the early stages of grief...those things that would cause frustration at times were sinking way below the level of the surface; they were becoming hard to reach. What was bubbling and alive on the surface were all the things we had talked about that night that made Jan such a special person.
I then went back over my list of 4:
1. You need to understand that I would give anything to ask Jan "how much time do you need" and I would not get frustrated if she was a bit late by my reckoning.
2. You need to know that I would give anything to hear the sound of her voice again and would not get frustrated if she talked about the same thing several times.
3. You need to know that I would give anything to sit Jan and let her talk about the calendar, because she did a superb job of planning our lives and I would love to have her doing that today.
4. You need to know that I would give anything to ask her "what time do you want me standing at attention" and helping her get ready for company, because she was a superb host and we had a great time entertaining family and friends. I will really miss all of that.
I closed by telling my family to be very careful to take good care of your relationships with the ones you love. Don't take anything for granted and don't get overly frustrated with little things that don't really matter in the long run. Jan and I had a great marriage that did in fact have an occasional bump in the road because we are a classic example of opposites being attracted to each other. But I would give anything to have that "opposite" in my life still; because she was the "other half of me" and I miss her terribly.
I really needed this evening with them. I told them of everything that happened and we spent the evening remembering Jan. It was poignant and warm and happy and laughter filled and tear filled and hopeful and faith building and friendship deepening.
I was reminded that "I do not walk alone" but am surrounded by family and friends and church. I would not want to face this alone. As we prayed together I was again reminded that faith in Jesus Christ is the greatest sustaining force in the world. I said "Thank you Lord for the Body of Christ of which I am a part"!! In the midst of deep pain...God is faithful.
It's Monday morning Lord and
and my thoughts are with Jan.
I met this wonderful woman quite by accident because of that unusual
winter blizzard in Chicago that caused the Bethel Male Chorus to
stay an extra night in that city.
I have always felt that you sent that storm just for me Lord,
You wanted me to stay overnight at her house.
You wanted me to see that beautiful smile and those gorgeous eyes.
You wanted me to hear the sound of her voice.
You wanted me to have that snow ball fight and make snow angels in her front yard.
It as a magical night and later I got to know her heart and in 3 years we were married.
We said "thanks Lord" when we found the wall hanging that said "Think Snow" which
graced the decor of our house for so many years.
Thank you Lord for giving me 47 years to live with Jan.
We lived together as husband and wife
We "two" became "one"
Thank you for making the "oneness" of marriage part of your plan.
I only know of one way to think of myself and that is "John/Jan".
She was my soul mate and my partner.
It was she who brought such joy and meaning to my life.
She loved you Lord and gave her life to you as a young child.
You gifted her and she sought to use those gifts in service.
She brought music to so many places as she played the organ and the piano and
She brought music into our family and our lives.
She never missed an opportunity to say "I love you" and to give someone a hug.
It's the reason I bought that license plate for her that said "Janhugs".
With such joy we welcomed Julie Ann and Joel into our lives and how she relished
Being a mother to those two kids she loved and who loved her in return completely.
Our "two" became "one" and you brought Mike to Julie Ann and Kelly to Joel
And so often we prayed that our marriage would model what they needed to see.
Then to have 6 wonderful grandchildren who called her Amma and received her love
Through hugs and kisses and parties and palmini and Swedish pancakes.
She wore a Starfish necklace and Starfish earrings because she wanted to spend each day
Seeking to "make a difference" in the life of one person.
She made a difference Lord.
In my life.
In the lives of her children.
In the lives of her grandchildren.
In the lives of her friends and so many others.
Give her a big hug from us...tell her again how much we love her.
We want to say "Amen" as you tell her "Well done Jan...you were a good and faithful servant.
Thank you Lord for this incredible woman who I loved with all my heart.