Monday, January 31, 2011

Kodak Moments

I am beginning my third week of "snow birding" in Arizona. We have come to Scottsdale for years during the month of January and so this year I came to spend the 3 weeks in our timeshares that Jan had scheduled. Each of these weeks there have been good friends staying in the same complex, so I have had people to spend time with. Julie Ann and family were here for 4 days last week and Joel comes this week for 3 days as we go over to a golf tournament that is in town. Thankfully there have been people around me or this time would have been unbearable and not something that I would have done.

It occured to me last night that I had not brought my camera with me. It was never on my check list of things to pack, as Jan always made that her priority. She had a passion to carefully record every trip and event with pictures and then spend the appropriate hours getting those pictures organized into albums. She loved going back and looking at the pictures and reliving the trip or event through them. It seemed that almost every day she would be capturing "Kodak moments" as the camera was always in her purse.

Since her death I have used the camera but once and that at Christmas time; and then of all things the battery went dead after two shots. In somes ways that seems an appropriate analogy of my life these last three months. November and December were kept busy with people and activities through the holidays. During that time I had many wonderful "Kodak moments" with my children and grandchildren and friends. There were some genuinely good times intermingled with the sorrow and sadness and grief. However, I didn't capture any of them myself on film. January began a new year and with it the onset of the regular routine of life, with fewer scheduled events then over the holidays. The reality of being a single man without my spouse became even more apparent and quite honestly life has been lived in the gray scale of black and white, rather than the robustness of full color.

Life is in so many ways a rapidly moving panorama of interaction with people, work, events to attend and the "doing of life". January has been for me a month is slow motion, filled with memories of snapshots, 47 years worth of pictures. Particularly of a birthday party that ended with Jan saying "what is happening to me" as the aneurism erupted in her brain. The snapshots of the next five hours are not pretty, but they are pictures that will stay with me for a lifetime.

I read the following this week: "Loss puts a sudden halt to business as usual. Life as we experienced it and expected it to be suddenly ends. We find ourselves bewildered that there is no relationship anymore...the process of life as we knew it ends, the continuum is disrupted, and the growth stops. The motion picture becomes a snapshot."

And yet every morning I seem to hear someone yell "ready...action...shoot" and the cameras begin to roll. The motion of life kicks into place and movement begins. Today I will have lunch with Sid and Char and then Sid and I will head off to play golf. It will be a good day and hopefully it will not decide to rain here in Arizona. I will have a good week with these friends that will be filled with pleasant memories. Jan would have been taking pictures and I should be doing the same; but I left the camera at home. I must not let that happen again.

The Bible reminds me to picture this: A place of calm, cool waters beside the green of a beautiful meadow. A field filled with sheep and a shepherd keeping careful watch. That is truly a "Kodak moment" and right now the Good Shepherd is whispering in my ear: "I am taking you to that place. Get the camera ready. I don't want you to miss the moment."

Have a good week.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Indulging My Appetite

Last night I started reading "A Grace Disguised" by Jerry Sittser. The author is well acquainted with grief as he lost his mother, his wife and his daughter in a horrific car accident caused by a drunk driver. The subtitle of his book is "How the soul grows through loss" and although I may not see clearly how my soul is growing at this point; I have been growing. Sittser writes that "I tried to drown the pain by indulging my appetites. I spent a great deal of time sitting alone the first months after the accident...but there was one period, about two months long, in which I broke the routine of seeking solitude by watchoing television almost every night from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. I simply could not face my unbearable loneliness. I did not want to crawl into an empty bed or think about why it was empty in the first place." (p. 57)

I resonate with what he is saying, because I have been indulging my particular my appetite for food. I have yet to sit at our kitchen table and eat a meal my myself as I find that to be too painful. The alternative is that I eat most meals out, either with family or friends, or by myself. Prior to Jan's death I had lost about 15 pounds through careful eating, portion control, and no desserts. Since her death my psyche keeps saying "you deserve to eat whatever you want" and so I have been enjoying myself without watching portion control and grabbing a dessert regularly. I finally stepped on a scale and realized that plus 10 pound have been added to my frame since Jan's death. Oooooops!

Apathy has been the distinguishing mark of most areas of my life. I have work that needs to be done...but I don't much care if I get it done. I have bought some good books that should be read...but they sit unopened as I escape into a novel of some kind. I am in Arizona right now and played golf yesterday where I totally lost my concentration and swing after 6 holes...and I found that I didn't much care. But put a menu in front of me and I will study it carefully to find that which I will most enjoy. No apathy in that particular arena. However, apathy does not engender a strong self image, it does not make life very entertaining.

I am waiting for a telephone call from friends to say it is time to leave for breakfast. My plan is to order the oatmeal rather than an omelet with pancakes. We are going to play golf again today and my plan is to focus and concentrate, rather than say "ho-hum...who cares" when I address the ball. The skies are clear and the temperature will be in the low 70's and my plan is to notice and enjoy that gift. Today I will take some small steps to punch apathy in the face. I will work hard to enjoy the moment. I'm not ready to say with Paul that "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me..."; but I am ready to say "I can do some things through Him who strengthens me".
A Plan Awakening The Hope Yurge
Sorry about that stupid word "yurge". But my soul has a deep "urge" this morning, that has nothing to do with apathy. I have a very simple plan for this day. It is the urge to purge apathy!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

Last Monday I sat down and wrote the following: Sitting on my desk next to my computer is the book "Faith and Doubt" by John Ortberg. It looks to be a good read and my care group from church is using it for our discussion guide this year. Last week we looked at chapter one and had a very interesting and spirited discussion around the role of doubt in the life of the Christian. On the back cover of the book the question is asked "What if the most important word is the one in the middle?" Faith and Doubt.

The author makes this suggestion: "When people of faith are not willing to sit quietly sometimes and let doubt make its case, bad things can happen." I believe that is a true statement. I also hope that the opposite of that is true: "When people of faith are willing to sit quietly sometimes and let doubt make its case, good things can happen." My personal discovery is that in the midst of grief, doubt has a way of slapping you across the face and saying "take that" or "explain that" or "how do you like those bananas?". Sometimes I sit quietly, at other times I walk around not so quietly, as doubt makes its case in the midst of the faith system that has defined my life all these years.

I was surprised last week by something not expected. It was my assumption that once the holidays were behind me, things would get quite a bit easier, because those "firsts" were out of the way. In some ways that has been true, but now the reality of the "routine" of life is taking hold without the business of the holidays and all its activities. It is time to start creating some kind of "new normal" as a single person...figuring out what I am going to do with the rest of my life.

For some reason I lost ability to write any more and so today I continue: What surprised me was that things are more difficult and certainly not easier. Talking with people this last week who have experienced grief they are not surprised to learn that right now the sledding is tough. So I balance faith and doubt...juggle the emotions that come and go with grief.

I received an email from my friend John Sundquist in which he shared something from Richard Foster's book, Celebration of Discipline, that was most helpful. Foster quoted Isa. 50:10: "Who among you fears the Lord and obeys gthe voice of his servant, who walks in darkness and has no light, yet trusts in the name of the Lord and relies upon his God?" The author then says: "The point of the biblical passage is that it is quite possible to fear, obey, trust, and rely ukpon the Lord and still walk in darkness and have no lighyt. We are living in obedience but we have entered a dark night of the soul."

What are we to do in a time of inward darkness. One of Foster's suggestions is that we "try not top explain for justify why you may be 'out of sorts'. God is your justifier; rest your case with him. If you can actually withdraw to 'a desert place' for a season, do so. If not, go about your daily tasks. But whether in the 'desert' or at home, hold in your heart a deep, inner, listening silence and there be still until the work of solitude is done".

I am actually in Scottsdale, AZ right now, surrounded by desert. I am here with good friends, with whom Jan and I have often traveled. But this morning I am getting ready to get in the car and take a drive by myself out into the desert. I am going to spend a good part of the day alone. I am going to strive to hold in my heart a deep...inner...listening silence. I have been working hard to surround myself with people and activity. Today I am going to seek solitude. Today I am going to balance the scale on the side of faith. Today I am going to listen for that still, small voice of hope and comfort.

I wish you peace.

Monday, January 3, 2011

I've always looked forward to the last week of the year. It was usually a relaxed week with down time from work and ample time with family and friends. For years we celebrated New Year's Eve with two couples who are close friends here in Minnesota and then for the last several years we have been in Michigan to bring in the New Year. That is where I was this year, gathering with close friends to bring an end to 2010 and welcome in 2011.

It proved to be a much more difficult experience than I had anticipated. Our tradition as friends has been to go outside at 11:58 p.m. to light sparklers and sing "auld lang syne" and welcome in the new year with hugs and kisses. This year at about 11:15 p.m. I left the party, saying goodnight to my friends, and headed back to my house in Bethany. I was not emotionally prepared to welcome in the new year without my spouse. I did not have a special somone to hug and begin a new year with a kiss. It seemed best to let the new year slip into being in the quiet aloneness of my house as I remembered and meditated and prayed.

My memories were very personal...very emotional...very precious.
My meditation was on a God who is faithful and comforting and empowering.
My prayer was one of thankfulness and a request for help in moving on in the year ahead.

At 11:58 p.m. I personalized the words of a prayer of St. Augustine sent me by a friend who lost her husband 3 years ago. The prayer went like this:
"God of my life, there are days when the burdens I carry chafe my shoulders and weigh me down; when the road seems dreary and endless, the skies grey and threatening; when my life has no music in it, and my heart is lonely, and my soul has lost its courage. Flood the path ahead with light, run my eyes to where the sky is full of promise; tune my heart to brave music; give me the sense of comradeship with heroes and saints of every age; and so quicken my spirit that I may be able to encourage the souls of all who journey on the road of life, to Your honor and glory. Amen"

That is by prayer:
  • A path that is filled with light.
  • Skies that are full of promise.
  • Ears that are tuned to brave music.
  • A sense of comradeship with all those who have gone on before.
  • A spirit that is quickened by The Spirit.

That is my prayer...not just for myself...but for each of you as well. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!