If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath.
Psalm 34:18 MSG
I’ve read the letter many times in the quiet of the night and when I pause during the day. Tyhara’s soothing words remind me into Whose arms I can fall when the darkest despair descends:
When you feel too emotionally worn out to get through the day, when your heart aches too much to let you fall asleep, I encourage you to close your eyes…breathe…imagine yourself cradled in the loving arms of our Savior. Feel free to bury your face in His chest, and feel free to feel the ache and sorrow of loss. Sob if you have to. He understands. Feel his arms wrap tightly and protectively around you in your broken state. Listen to His whisper as He reminds you of His promises of life eternal, everlasting joy, comfort during trials, and His nearness to you always. Stay in His embrace as long as you need. When you’re ready, open your eyes, know God is always with you, and claim the power of God through Jesus to get you through…
I carry Tyhara’s letter with me throughout the day. It remains in my “pouch of pretties,” available when I need to refer to it. The tulip, Lori’s favorite flower, rests on the mantel. In Tyhara’s words, “a small thing to bring comfort […].”
My friend Kemi gave me a handout on navigating grief written by Chrystal Evans Hurst. One of the tips is to “keep going;” another is “get to work,” to keep doing life. Although it seems easier to curl into a ball and hide under the covers till the worst of the grief passes, the reality is the longer I stay down, the more difficult it will be for me to get up. Besides, too much life requires my actual presence. In an effort to “keep doing,” I’m at work seeing students and working on a report that’s due in less than a week.
In that same effort, I’m blogging today because “Microblog Mondays” are part of my normal, and writing and blogging provide healing and escape, when necessary.
As part of our “Brothers’ and Sisters’ Tribute” at my sister’s “Celebration of Life” service, I read an excerpt from e.e. cummings’ poem, ‘i carry your heart with me’ and a brief “statement” about Lori’s gift. Many people asked for a copy, so I decided to share here so that they–and any others–can read it whenever they wish to do so.
[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart) –e.e. cummings
After I told Ramona, one of my colleagues, about Lori’s being moved to hospice and my utter despair that her situation had so progressed, she suggested that I focus on the gift Lori gave. That instead of focusing on the possibility of her end, I hone in on the gift she gave me.
This was apropos because Lori loved giving gifts. She was particularly tickled by finding unique sister gifts. But, of course, I was to look for Lori’s intangible gift to me and to the world. As I contemplated Lori’s gift, I came face to face with it during our last visit with her, mere days before she expired. Lori’s cancer had metastasized and covered 90% of her brain, but there was so much light emanating from her that it gave me pause.
Throughout her entire ordeal, Lori kept her mind stayed on Christ. There were times when I’d check in on her and she’d tell me she’d just had a high time in praise and worship.
She was so filled with the light of Christ that I firmly believe that though we didn’t get the miracle we prayed for, we received a miracle of light. It was no less than divine intervention that allowed her to have such peace throughout her trial, no less than a miracle that she clung so fiercely to Christ, no less than a miracle that she trusted His Sovereignty above all else. No less than a miracle that with only 10% of her brain spared this dreaded disease she recognized us, acknowledged our presence, and responded with the little physical strength she had. No less than a miracle that as the life was waning from her body, she still reflected light. She still reflected Christ.
Lori’s gift was her light. She taught us how to walk in light through impenetrable darkness.
My guys and I traveled to New Orleans the weekend before last–to lay eyes on and touch my sister Lori, to love on her and pray over her. Even though she could not verbally communicate with us, she was responsive. She even opened her eyes briefly. In our prayers for a mighty miracle, we also submitted to Divine Wisdom. There was so much light in her, still so much fight that we walked away, hopeful that we’d see her again the following weekend.
That was not to be.
My sister, Lori, took her last breath a few days after our return, Wednesday night, September 12, just before midnight. And now, I feel like I’m holding my own breath…again.
I am angry. Disappointed. Hurt. Grieving miserably. I wish I could sit this one out and not go through it at all. I draw parallels between Grendel, the monster of the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, and cancer, a horrible night-crawler that catches us unaware and snuffs out lives. Jealous over our happiness, our relationships. Our very humanity. And that horrible beast took Lori from us, like it took Karlette five and a half years ago.
One of my nieces texted me yesterday expressing her utter disappointment and anger about Lori’s passing. We were all praying that her desperate situation could become an incredible story of Divine intervention. I assured her that I share her feelings, and encouraged her to give full vent of her anger to God. He can handle it. Furthermore, He’s well acquainted with our grief and He’s just as hurt and angry as we are that we are going through this…AGAIN.
I read and reread the following quote almost daily for several weeks and finally shared it with my mom and sister:
God didn’t set this journey in motion. He’s just as angry as you are that you have to walk this road. But He promises you this: He will walk this road with you. And He will be there for you when you reach the end of it. God loves you. –from the television series Touched by an Angel
God is a compassionate, loving Father, cradling us and weeping with us. His amazing grace, the blessed hope of Christ’s return to take us Home, preparation for the biggest family reunion ever, and a heavenly future without the suffering and pain of illness and death rescue me from the darkest depths of despair.
I already miss Lori like crazy. She was a good person, who welcomed all into her life and loved them deeply. She loved giving gifts, finding just the right thing. Like Karlette, she loved beautifying her spaces. She spent so much time babysitting many of the nieces and nephews that we can claim she “half raised” them. Her guys and two little girls (her granddaughters) were her heart, but there was so much room for many more.
Though I grieve over the loss of her, I do so with an unshakeable hope, rooted in Christ:
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. –I Thessalonians 4:13-18
I found a pleasant surprise as I glanced at my phone just before ending my last class for the week (woohoo!)–a simple, heartwarming message from Kim B, my newest Love Notes pal:
I was praying for you and your sister in my garden.
She enclosed photos of her gorgeous sunflowers (click an image for a closer look]:
The red one!!! Heavenly!
According to a note she sent in July, Kim planted the seeds a little late this year, but as you can see, they’re blooming beautifully. At the end of this emotionally exhausting week they’re my brilliant reminders to continue “facing the sun”.
Her written message telling of praying in the garden has me singing a favorite hymn, “In the Garden.”
I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses:
And the voice I hear falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
The Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson, offers a powerful rendition that deserves a listen:
Be sure to take some time to pray and meditate in the garden this weekend. You’ll experience amazing joy and peace.
Hope is a midwife, helping us breathe. Out with the pain. In with the Spirit. Repeat as often as necessary. And again and again. There’s no shortage of oxygen. No shortage of God. —Jennifer Dukes Lee
I wrote the quote above in my Bible Study journal nearly three years ago. I can’t remember the specific reason why it spoke to me then, but at this moment, I am breathing hope.
We learned that my sister’s cancer metastasized to her brain two weeks ago. Radiation was stopped after a week because it was not preventing the spread of the disease and was only making her weaker. Two days ago, the doctor told her husband, my parents, and my baby sister, “There is no hope for recovery.” Plain and simple. To the point. Not what we want to hear, but the candor we need to activate hope and faith.
The late, great evangelist E.E. Cleveland, in expounding on Hebrews 11:1, told our class of wide-eyed college students many years ago that “faith is belief in the absence of evidence and in the face of contrary evidence.” I’ve never forgotten those words. They are ingrained in my spirit.
So now the faithwork intensifies. Now, we pool our faith and hope and pray and fast and plead for the miracle we know God can perform, if it is His will to do so. Because we cannot just lie down and accept that this is our story…again. We cannot simply accept that this is sweet Lori’s story. Lori with the heart of gold. Lori who has been unflappable. Lori who has found a way to praise God through mind-numbing, excruciating pain. Lori whose faith has been rock-solid, unwavering throughout this entire ordeal.
The doctor did his job. Now, we wait in hope for God to do His.
How can I have such audacious faith that GOD CAN HEAL even metastatic cancer after I’ve already lost one sister to cancer? I believe in miracles and divine interventions. I serve the Most High God who still performs divine acts in the face of human impossibilities.
So I lay all of it on the altar and praise God for what He will do, and if He allows another outcome, He is still God.
I breathe hope.
I’ve been angry lately. Justifiably so. About many things.
Normally, my anger dissipates rather quickly, but this anger has been simmering for some time and is now a full-blown blaze which I can’t easily extinguish.
As I was walking through campus a few days ago alone with my thoughts, the anger flared and I felt it with everything in me. Just as I was beginning to appease myself and reel it in, I was given Divine permission to be angry and to give my anger full vent.
Scripture tells us to “be angry, but do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). People generally get so caught up in the “do not sin” part that they forget that anger is a natural response to life’s injustices. Scripture validates our emotional response to the wrongs committed against us and humanity in general, the altered circumstances when everything was “just fine,” the disruptions in life that are unpleasant, uncomfortable, and plain unfair.
Grammatically speaking, God invites us to be–to welcome anger as a state of [our] being. There is something in the scripture that urges us to feel what we feel fully and to let it momentarily become part of who we are—without apology. Such full in the face immersion in the anger diminishes the magnitude, the awfulness of the thing and we can move toward reconciliation and healing.
I’m generally not a ranter. I don’t get angry enough to cause alarm. I don’t yell (too loudly). I don’t throw things. I don’t threaten and I certainly don’t hit. I’ve been trying to put words (and actions) to what it means for me to give full expression to my anger.
As I figure this out, I’m noting that the biblical parameters give me a lot of room to vent…as long as I do no harm to others or myself. As long as anger is a temporary state of being, resolved by “sundown.”
Be angry [at sin—at immorality, at injustice, at ungodly behavior], yet do not sin; do not let your anger [cause you shame, nor allow it to] last until the sun goes down. And do not give the devil an opportunity [to lead you into sin by holding a grudge, or nurturing anger, or harboring resentment, or cultivating bitterness]. –Ephesians 4:26-27 AMP