Still Here and Still His

Of Life, Love and Loss. Of Knowing and Being Known. On Being His.

Category: Grief

Home

PART I.

I love our home. It’s been home to me my whole life. My parents brought me from the hospital to this place. My entire childhood was spent here, weekends during college, the night before my wedding.

DSC03009Eighteen months after Jeremy and I were married I was five months pregnant. We would soon be outgrowing our one-bedroom apartment. That same summer my mom was moving out of our modest family home so Jeremy and I decided to rent the house from her, although we had no intention of making it ours for long. Then, life happened: babies, jobs, illness, a community of friends…and we stayed. A few years later, when we realized it would be best for us to remain local due to Jeremy’s (unwelcomed) medical hobbies, we purchased the house from my mom. Life in the city allowed for easy access to clinics and hospitals, despite a desire in both of us for fields and sky. It was a great provision for us to have a place to make our home.

If I were to design and build a house from the ground up, this wouldn’t be the one. But it’s been all we’ve ever needed: a gathering place, a place of rest, a place of song, of activity. The walls have sheltered us, encompassing our hardest days, our deepest joys, and every moment of life in between.

But these boys of mine are growing — outgrowing their beds, outgrowing their room. And it’s not only them; my heart feels as if it’s outgrowing this space as well, a feeling I’ve had for quite some time. I long for more breathing space for me, for them, for others. I’ve prayed long and hard over these desires, trying to decide whether to move or to stay, hoping to discern what the Lord might have for us (or, even better, what He might have us for). I’ve wrestled with how to merge what I’ve understood to be God-given desires with our present-day reality. I’ve spent time re-envisioning our own space and drafting addition plans for our home sweet home, as well as looking at other houses for sale–a dozen or so–over the past few years.

Last August, I nearly put down an offer on one of those homes; but on the very day that I was beginning to pack up in anticipation of the first real potential move, water began seeping out onto the floors in our basement. Without warning, the bottom of my water heater had rusted and gallons of water poured out, causing enough water damage that it required something to be done. Within mere moments all that was being put in order became disorder and our smallish space suddenly became smaller. From that day forward our basement has either been wet, overcrowded with furniture and storage, or under construction. The water damage led to a renovation project that finally wrapped up in February, nearly six months later.

I knew that renovating the basement wasn’t my only option. I could have more quickly and easily ordered new carpet, repaired the walls, redone the baseboards. But our basement wasn’t in great condition to begin with so, although it’s never been priority to renovate that space, it quite suddenly became a priority. I didn’t want to merely patch it up, leaving the possibility of having to do it again a few years down the road; I wanted it up-to-code and up-to-date, the first time. So I put my house-searching on pause late last summer and decided to focus on the mess at hand.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…A time to break down, and a time to build up…” (Ecc. 3)

With our basement space now livable, we can breathe again. Be, again. Or at the very least, be able to start from square one again. And whether we stay, or whether we eventually go, a part of our space is now renewed and restored for us or for whoever it is meant to shelter.

 PART II.

Sometimes it takes tearing down the walls to get fresh vision for how a place could be transformed and made into something better. I think the same is true for our hearts; or for mine, at least. Sometimes hearts, just like homes, need to have panelling taken down and solid walls built. Some walls need to come down all together, allowing new spaces to be created. Some windows need to be sealed up, while others need new panes. Sometimes, more working outlets are needed.

Although I had never been a part of a renovation, it seemed I already knew what to expect. I knew the project would take longer than planned and that not everything would turn out the way I thought it would. I knew my schedule would not be top priority, nor would my space remain mine alone. I knew that I would have to be patient, flexible and available, again and again. Items in my home that once provided comfort and a familiar atmosphere would be temporarily or permanently rearranged, or removed altogether. Countless decisions would need to be made — some by me, some by others. The work would be costly (it seems the greatest works always are).  And it would be messy: the dust would travel everywhere, leaving nothing untouched. Even still, the hope was that–Lord-willing–it would be better than what was.

It didn’t take me long to realize why the renovation process felt so familiar. I knew what to expect because I had been living it, in a sense, for the past six years. My heart had needed a renovation of sorts after Jeremy’s death. His death was a sudden undoing of the tangible framework of my life. Perhaps in response I chose (consciously or not, I do not know) the heart renovation in hopes that my life would be made stronger and more suitable and longer-lasting, to hold whatever the Lord deems fitting. Or perhaps the Lord chose it, knowing that it would somehow be best for me. The renovation of my heart and life these years has been devastating and comforting, wrecked and beautiful. It’s been costly and painstakingly slow. The spread of the ashes from his death has left nothing untouched. But I’ve also seen and known glimpses of goodness, of hope, of the richness of God’s mercy and comfort. I have seen green sprouts emerge upon the surface of my life. Although I often ask God for more clarity, quicker action, and a sit down session with a blueprint of my life, it seems more often than not He’s keeping those blueprints rolled up and bound, holding them close to His heart, unable to be seen by me, but well within His care.

The process of sanctification is a holy mystery that I don’t claim to understand, but I do claim, and have known, it to be true. And as much as I desire to be a good steward of my home, I desire even more to be a good steward of my heart and life.

PART III.

My mother-in-law and I are struck at how similar we are in the making of a home. We want to pick one paint color, one piece of furniture, and have it last — forever. This form of homemaking has its challenges because…it’s impossible. The things of this world will grow dull and dusty and fade with time. Seasons will come and go; at times our needs and desires will, too. We cannot order things perfectly and expect them to remain that way.

Even still, we shoot for the impossible every time.

For me, I think the desire to choose only once is really a desire to never have to choose again and to live within the safety of something that’s decided; for a structure that is solid; space that is finished; for something that is timeless (or, better yet, full of time). Perhaps I should call it what it is: a longing for the eternal.

These days, it seems I’ve circled back to the beginning with regards to our home, being somewhat frustrated at the lack of movement in our life, with no other home on the horizon and no remodeling plans on the table (and a basement that has been made new but still reminds me often that there is always more work to be done). Yet I am slowly welcoming the idea that if I can’t round up more space, then I need to learn how to view and use the space already provided for us differently. There’s definitely no place like home.

God knows the plans He has for us; I expect they are better than mine. So I try to hold my heart the way that God does, to view the future and my present days the way He does, to view my space the way He does. He sees and knows so much more than I can, or ever will.

Because of this, I have to remind myself often: I can be flexible and moldable in the hands of God. He holds the beginning and the end — of not only my life, but of the whole world — therefore I can trust Him to disrupt my plans when they aren’t His. I can wait for His blessing. I can seek His face and His presence while I wait for His calling. Although so much in life shifts and changes, He doesn’t and He won’t. If I’ve chosen to give Him all of me, then all other choices are less weighty, because He is with me. He will lead and guide me and help me to choose wisely. And despite a desire for more (more space, more time, more opportunities to give), we have everything we could possibly need for today, which is exactly what He has promised.

“Abide in me, as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches…” (John 15:4-5a)

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:3)

God cares about the details, even more than I do. He is an architect. He loves to build. And what He builds lasts, because He cares deeply about the foundation. He will not merely patch us up; He will repair and restore our lives in a way that benefits our future while making full use of our past. And all of this, for His glory and His kingdom.

 

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Life in Color

We’ve come a long way.

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This past year was rather remarkable. Remarkable not so much by what happened, but by how things have come to be. 

Aedan (13) has grown taller (and, of course, wiser). We are equal in height, I expect for not much longer. He is most often pushing open the door to his independence while I’m on the other side holding it halfway shut with my foot. We try to meet in the middle, generally finding understanding (sometimes frustration), while aiming for delight and laughter.

Eli (11) has deepened his ability to intrigue and amaze me and others. If he could discover a magic trick or create a robot that could complete his schoolwork and eat his veggies for him, he’d be on cloud nine. He is always making something new, and enjoys the process more than the end result. Having the heart of an artist is not always (if ever) easy, but it is beautiful.

Jo Isaac (8) has become stronger–in heart, body and soul. He is my mix of cuddles and chaos (though my definition of “chaos” is likely much more mild than what that term defines). I appreciate how he engages with the world around him. He has almost outgrown my lap, which saddens me immensely.

It seems that now instead of tears and tantrums in our home, it’s more often words and conversations…perhaps heated discussions. We explain and reason with one another, we love and forgive. The boys ask many questions–questions that I would never think to ask. I answer them, sometimes. More often I recommend they go ask someone else more suited to answer (so if they ever show up on your doorstep asking some random yet “suited-for-you” question, I likely sent them).

I had always expected this would be Jeremy’s prime season of parenting. I could easily handle the babies and toddlers but I hoped he could oversee the kids once they could think for themselves. I wanted him around to help teach them how to know God, to help guide their view of the world, to aid them in understanding themselves. Yet in his absence, our family has been supported and our growth assisted in many ways, through various people. My goal as their mother is to hold them with loving yet open hands, lest I hold them too tightly and never let go. Not having Jeremy here has helped me do so because I’ve had no other option but to need others’ help.

As for me…

C.S. Lewis writes in A Grief Observed about the spiral of emotions that is experienced in a tragedy like the loss of a spouse–how you often feel that you are spiraling, yet never quite sure of the direction. From my experience, I found that even if I had been spiraling upward, one moment of stress or overwhelming request placed upon me, one familiar scent or the change of seasons, one thought of a past memory or glance at an image of the life we once had, would change the trajectory and stability of my heart. Those experiences for me, though not obsolete, are much less frequent.

The best I can describe is that something awoke in me this past summer. Life isn’t about recovery from tragedy anymore. There is a lot I could say about that—too much, really—but you’ll just have to take my word for it. Nothing in our life has changed all that much, but my heart seems positioned in a different way. Perhaps it’s just more full.

I say that because though this past year was filled with various circumstances in our family–some incredibly difficult, others surprisingly delightful—most days I’d go to bed and think, “I can’t believe I get to live this life”.  And to say that without Jeremy’s presence is significant. As I’ve written before, there were days past when I thought the best years of my life were over. Perhaps they are. But I can look back at the past few years and still say that they have been good and worth every day of living. Our days have been infiltrated with the constancy of the Lord’s presence (whether obvious and felt, or not) and the beauty, strength, and joy of faithful friends, neither of which I take for granted. He has never left me. I have never been alone.

600514_4969801436266_166949263_nFive years ago, Jeremy snapped this pic while celebrating our 10th anniversary. I glanced at it the other night and thought, “He’s dying. I can see it in his eyes”. I didn’t recognize it back then, but those eyes weren’t the eyes I had seen for the previous nine years of our marriage.  His eyes, though filled with hope, were saying goodbye to a world and life he so badly wanted to hold onto. And I noticed how I stood beside him with color that dressed up his gray.

Several months ago a woman at church kindly suggested that I needed to wear more color. Little did she know my closet has been filled with grays and navy blues for years now. This is in part because I’m a minimalist in the wardrobe department due to my distaste for shopping, but mostly because it’s how I’ve felt. So I chuckled and said, “Well, it’s kinda how I feel”…gray and navy suit me well.

But I get it now. The color is rising in me.”I will restore to you the years…” (Joel 2). The Lord promises to do so. And in certain ways, He already has.

Blessings to you, dear family and friends. May 2017 be a year that you are drawn closer to Him.

“Let in the Light, Shut Out the Dark” Part 1

I’ve often seen the morning light as an invitation for us to join in on a day that God has already begun, so I remind my boys that in the morning they are to ‘open the blinds and let in the light’. And in the evening, when the day is done and the night sky and its darkness has fallen upon us, they know they are to ‘close the blinds so as to shut out the dark’. These spoken words began as a simple preference of my own, but as I remind them, I remind myself as well.

My three boys share one bedroom in our home. They’re all packed in–tight and cozy. One of their morning responsibilities includes opening the blinds to their windows. Oftentimes, one of them forgets (though it’s never the same kid from day to day). It drives me a wee bit crazy to walk into their room after they’ve gone to school and find that the blinds are still closed and the sun’s rays are barely leaking in, forbidden from casting light into the already cramped, and often cluttered, space. Some days I climb up the bunk ladder and open the blinds. Other days I close the door to their bedroom and pretend the darkness and clutter doesn’t exist. The pretending, of course, is kids’ play; the reality is that I don’t want to deal with it. I don’t want to deal with the darkness, the clutter, or the ensuing chaos. The same is true for my heart. When life feels cramped, cluttered, or chaotic–whether internally or externally–it takes effort to let in the light. I am prone to shut the door, keep the blinds closed and pretend those places and that darkness doesn’t exist.

As mid-November rolls around there creeps up within me this awful feeling that I just want to curl up, take a quick nap, and wake up in February. For packed into those eight weeks are three birthdays, two holidays, and one anniversary. I’ve always felt somewhat lacking in the celebration department anyway, and carrying on those celebrations and preparations without Jeremy’s aide has proven difficult these past few years. Nevertheless, these boys of mine need to be celebrated whether I feel up for the task or not. Advent is to be remembered and Christ’s birth rejoiced in, because it’s a reality that has given us–and continues to give us– life. The moments of remembering and celebrating make and remake our hearts. I need that work done in me. I need to let in that light.

This season, then, is not what it once was for our family; nor is it what I imagined it would be. Yet rather than attempting to re-create what once was I’ve learned that it’s more fruitful to enjoy these present moments, however they may unfold. Christmas shopping is yet to be completed and the Christmas tree was only picked out this past weekend. But we’ve listened to Christmas music, read stories, lit fires in the fireplace. I’ve held and cuddled a sick boy on a gray day. We’ve spent time with friends and family and rejected the to-do list for just one more day. And I find that my heart is glad. I find myself grateful that God has provided enough for this moment. I find myself happy to be awake, to be given one more day to serve and love God the best I know how.

Traditions are wonderful, but the hope and peace of Advent and Christmas dwells much deeper than our ability to manage the chaos and create beautiful moments. We can — even in darkness and chaos and clutter — twist the wand and let in a little light. Jesus knows exactly how to enter in to such spaces. We find there is room and space during Advent for the dark — the weak, the tired, the wandering, the waiting, the wondering — as well as room and space for hope, joy and celebration. There is a place here for all of us.

Blessings to you and yours as you wait for the coming King.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

J Erickson

Some of our favorite porch steps in the world (they belong to the grandparents).

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