We Are Infinite Because of Love

The last several days have been incredibly difficult–five deaths affecting people near and dear to me. It takes its toll. Yesterday, I wanted to blog about something hopeful, but I didn’t have the energy to pull a bit of light out of me. After a fitful night, I woke up and recalled a stack of mail I hadn’t gone through. In that stack was a postcard from my penfriend, Trang K, featuring the tomb of Frédéric Chopin at Le Cimetière du Père Lachaise in Paris. The image is part of the Oases of Silence 2018 collection.

On the postcard, Trang describes her walk “with deep solemnity” through the cemetery. Her words are appropriate for this moment:

Life has no beginning and no end as we each carry the memory of each other through our love and hearts. The sadness at the sight of the graves left me and I was left with the joy of celebration to be in the presence of [Frédéric François] Chopin, [Ferdinand Victor Eugène] Delacroix, Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde.  May [we] celebrate each moment of [our] glorious [lives] knowing [we] are infinite because of love.

Few words comfort in the immediacy of a loved one’s passing. Action takes the lead when words fail: “When you can’t look on the bright side, I will sit with you in the dark” (Alice in Wonderland).

Guest Post: “Woke Up to the News” by K.C. Dulan

Photo by Michel Kwan

We’ve all been touched by suicide. Whether it was the death of someone we know or someone we admire, we’ve felt the coldness of that loss for which the answers never satisfy. We may not understand why, but God knows. He is most intimately connected with us, even when we feel detached from Him. As I mentioned in “He Comes Walking,” He is well-acquainted with human suffering, including the desperate, hopeless suffering that leads to an individual’s taking his or her own life.

In a post that first appeared in Medium on June 8, my friend, K.C. Dulan, ruminates over the whys and hows and urges us to truly see each other and give “rest” in life instead of death.

***   ***   ***

Woke up to the news of another suicide of a high-profile individual.

The second one in a week.

And I wondered; how many more died invisible deaths by suicide in-between the two?

Unseen. Unnamed. Unheard.

Wondered about the “why” as the rate steadily climbs.

Wondered about the “how” — how to make it stop; because the truth is those that are willing to DO something about it are often barely treading water themselves.

And I worry about them all…

The doers.

The grinders.

The healers.

The seers.

The feelers.

The bearers.

The wanderers.

The ones who are not readily seen as broken, but are givers — constantly breaking off pieces of themselves to be consumed by the needs and wants of others until nothing remains.

They DO whatever needs to be done regardless of their own mental or emotional capacity and promise to take care of themselves just as soon as this one more thing is done.

They GRIND, determined not to be average and in pursuit of “greatness” or “success” before they have clearly defined what that truly means…and what it really costs…for themselves.

They HEAL (everyone else). Make us laugh, entertain us, show us the world, teach us to love…they stand in the gap or endure public flogging for standing up. Or sitting down. Or marching. Or taking a knee.

They SEE and accept the brokenness in others but are ashamed and cannot forgive or accept their own.

And they FEEL the wounds and pain of humanity and yearn for others to feel it, too.

They BEAR the burdens of their fellow man…shoulders raw, backs bent from carrying the weight of the world.

They WANDER seeking safety, seeking hope, seeking solutions, seeking solace, seeking peace.

People say it’s a selfish act…

Interestingly committed by those who often give the most of themselves –

The warriors doing battle without the armor of selfishness, narcissism, and individualism on the front lines against hate, apathy, indifference, injustice; refusing to take up space with their own pain and suffering;

Those whose internal, looping tapes – embedded by the unrealistic demands and expectations of others – tell them over and over again that they are NEVER enough. No matter how much they accomplish, it will never be enough.

Those who have been sold the unsustainable lie that they are nothing unless they “stay grindin’” — when the very definition of “grind” is to REDUCE (something) to small particles or powder by crushing it.

Until… “IT” becomes the only way to find rest…

How ironic that we then say

Rest in peace.

Rest in freedom.

Rest in power.

It’s all they ever wanted.

If only we could give it to each other in LIFE instead of in death.

#Pleasedontgo #Pleasestay #Youmatter #Youareenough #Iseeyou

_______________________________________

About the author: K.C. Dulan is oddly optimistic that Love will win. She is the wife of one, mother of three, daughter, sister, friend. She is a quiet warrior who is passionate about family, community, faith, and justice.

Earth Has No Sorrow…

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish;
Come to the mercy-seat, fervently kneel;
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish,
Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.

Today marks five years since we lost my little sister, and I miss her every single day. I can’t see the color pink without thinking about her. Certain cadences in my speech and the intoning of particular expressions make my words catch in my throat because I think I hear her voice coming from my body. As I think about her life, our conversations about dreams and goals, I realize we sang the same song but to a different tune.

I tried to keep myself busy today because I know where my thoughts “live” on March 11. I tried to stuff the grief into a neat box inside my heart, when what I wanted to do and what I needed to do was to pull away from the rest of the world and cry myself tearless.

Just last night, I finished a letter to a dear friend regarding the recent brutal loss of her own sister, administering medicine that I must take. Grief doesn’t come in a neat package with step-by-step, day-by-day instructions. Grief is a process that can’t be staged, coached, cultivated, or rushed.

And we must allow ourselves to go through it–no matter how long it takes–with apologies to no one, not even ourselves.

Walking in Amazing Grace…

This is what grace does […]. Grace gives us the faith to be utterly assured of what we cannot see […]. It connects us to the invisible One in an eternal love relationship that fills us with joy we have never known before and gives us rest of heart that we would have thought impossible. And that grace is still rescuing us…  –Paul David Tripp (emphasis mine)

“Amazing Grace” is a powerful hymn. Whether I’m singing along with a congregation, singing alone, or simply reading the words, the lyrics always move me to tears.

When I watched and listened to my beautiful colleague, Julie Moore Foster, and her equally beautiful daughter soulfully sing “Amazing Grace” this morning, I was stunned into meditative silence.

Even before I reached the end, which presented a short montage of Julie’s oldest daughter’s life, I knew their singing of this song was not “just singing” but a powerful story of God’s work in the soul–His amazing grace.

They lost Témar at the beginning of 2015, a loss they walk with every day.  I “knew” Témar briefly; she was enrolled in my British Literature class her last semester of college, the semester I lost my sister. Two years later, I bonded with Hannah, the daughter featured alongside Julie in the video below, over our mutual loss of sisters.  A question in my Shakespeare course led to an intense discussion of disappointment, loss, and coping with the “most difficult” challenges of life–a moving experience that I might have the courage to share another day.

I know what it is to be saved by God’s grace, not just from sin and the ravages of this world, but rescued from the deep, murky pit of grief and despair that can suffocate and rob a life of meaning and joy. But when my mother, Julie, any mother–indeed any parent–can stand upright and sane in this messed up space where parents have to bury their children, I see clear evidence of God’s grace walking and talking among us.

Notes on the song/video: “Amazing Grace” arranged by Kelvin Wooten, Wayne Bucknor, and Julie Moore Foster. Direction and videography by William Jenkins. Audio production by WoodaWorx Productions, Inc. The song is part of Julie Moore Foster’s first album, Soul Songs. To find out more see: Soul Songs Project.

The “Other” Sister: “I didn’t have to fight…”

Although I’ve written about my younger sister Karlette who succumbed to breast cancer a few years ago, I have not mentioned Lori, my other sister, who danced with the devil. Lori’s diagnosis came a few years before Karlette’s first. I asked her to write a blog post about her experience, but she feels that she has little to add to the conversation. However, what she shared with me during the “trying-to convince-her” discussion says a lot about the feelings of some breast cancer survivors whose battles may not have been as “dramatic” as others’.

It has been hard for me to think of myself as a survivor. I really didn’t have to fight cancer. Karlette fought cancer. It kept coming for her and she fought with everything she had. I just went through treatments and it was gone. I’m not sure if I’ve ever celebrated survival. I know that there’s always the possibility of its coming back, but my plan would be the same[…]. I never thought of it as a fight. I thank God for His mercy and for blessing me when so many others had to fight and many even lost.

When I pointed out to her that her status as “survivor” is a matter of perspective, that every year she “holds her breath until given the ‘cancer free’ news,” she responded:

I do. [But] I give it all to God. I thank Him daily for every breath I take. Don’t get me wrong. I know I, too, could have lost, but I know that it was God who fought and won. Not me–not without giving it to Him.

It has been difficult for Lori being the older sister survivor when one of her baby sisters didn’t survive. She lives with profound sadness because of this reality. I watched her go through treatment, and it wasn’t pretty. Cancer changed her life. It changed her body’s chemistry and even impacted the way she processed our younger sister’s passing. 

A cancer diagnosis–no matter how positive the prognosis–is a sucker punch that a person feels deep in his or her being. Every cancer survivor lives with the possibility that “it” may return.

That is what makes survivors survivors–not “beating” the disease or coming through unscathed but the daunting reality of the disease; they’re survivors because they can stand up in the world and move and contribute and be [whole and well] with the looming possibility of such crippling news.

We lost Karlette. That’s an awful reality that hurts like hell. But losing her makes us celebrate Lori even more. Though we may never have the answer to why not Karlette too, Lori’s survival is important. It rescues us from despair. It gives us hope. And that is certainly a reason to celebrate.

The closing lines of my favorite Lucille Clifton poem comes to mind:

come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
[from “won’t you celebrate with me“]

*Photos in this post are from Pixabay.

To My Colleague with Breast Cancer: You Have This Moment

faith

I read a little of your story today and it broke my heart. I see you wearing courage and faith openly, but I know you’re hurting, suffering, and perhaps afraid. I want to talk to you, but I don’t know what to say.  That I’m praying for you? I am.  But how many times a day do you hear that?

Whenever I see you, I think of Karlette, my little sister. The loss of her. The grief that still challenges every waking minute.  The sorrow that changed me. That changed all who really knew her in unspeakable ways.  Knowing this very real loss of her, I cannot offer you empty platitudes and mere words. I will not ever say to you what many cancer patients often hear:  “You’re a fighter. You will make it.  You will come through this.”

hope

I don’t know that. Neither of us do. Unless we are speaking of a future in the heavenly realms, earth offers no guarantees. Faith that can move mountains assures us that God is faithful. But. Faithful God allows grief, disappointment, and sorrow.  No matter how unfair or mean or downright unacceptable it seems to us—faithful God says, “some sicknesses are unto death, some for testimony.”  This can be a hard, hard pill to swallow.  But it is truth.

I wouldn’t say any of that to you either. You already know it.  You began this difficult line of thinking when you first heard the diagnosis or when the treatments did not bring desired results.

Then, I remember a conversation with Karlette on one of my visits.  In 2011 or 2012.  She had so many battles, so I’m not sure of the year.  She was weary of people seeing her as a cancer patient, as a cancer victim.  When people saw her, she felt, they saw cancer and not her.  She wanted to talk about MORE than that.  She was so much more than that, but when cancer takes over your body and your life and you can barely lift your head most days, even you begin to wonder.  I remember saying to her—you are not your cancer.  Or maybe, she said to me–I am not my cancer.

I say it to you–you are not your cancer.  You are more than this disease that disrupted your happiness and altered your life so completely that you are no longer who you were. I say to you–embrace the uncertainty.  Live and dance and love in beauty and in the sacredness of your being, and be everything you are in this moment.  Only this moment is sure.

love

“Just Like Your Dad,” or Happy Birthday, Daddy!

 

Daddy.

Daddy.

“Just like your dad,” some people say to me. Typically, this is in reference to some unwavering position I hold on a particular issue. I’m not always sure of their meaning, but I take it as a compliment. My father is an honest, hardworking man of his word. He has impeccable integrity. Is he perfect? No. Can he be stubborn and contrary? Indeed! But it is because of his strong opinions and my having to battle him throughout my childhood and adolescence for the right to my own, that I do not waver with every “change in the direction of the wind.” It is because of his (and my mother’s) sacrificing that I know my worth. And because of the fierceness of his commitment and service to our family that I know the character of genuine love.

Today is my dad’s 81st birthday. Eighty-one years is a long time to be blessed with life and good health and love on this earth. It is more meaningful because my dad is the first among his parents and siblings to live beyond the age of 60. I imagine that he spent his years up to that point a little anxious…holding his breath a little. So we celebrated 60.  We celebrated 70. And then, 80. And 80 was major because we had not gathered as a family since Karlette passed.  There was something in the celebration that was more than just another birthday–it was a celebration of “being alive” and with family and close friends. For some of us, we celebrated for Karlette, who loved (and never missed) these family gatherings, and who would have been right there with us making much over Daddy. For some of us, it was intense because our last celebration of this magnitude–for my dad’s 70th birthday–where family and friends gathered was just weeks before Hurricane Katrina scattered us in different directions. For those of us who suffered loss after loss after loss over the last few years, the celebration served as a welcome exorcism of the heaviness of the grief that weighed us down.

That was last year. This year the celebration is a little quieter–as we had a huge family reunion a few weeks ago. But the day is no less significant. As I celebrate my dad and his day, I’m not only looking at today. I am looking back to the warmth of yesterday, meditating on all the intangible and imperishable gifts my father bestowed on his 10 children. I also look to tomorrow, as I realize these gifts are being instilled in generation after generation of his progeny. Though I cannot tell all that he is and all that he’s accomplished in one blog post, this is what I celebrate.

Thank you, Daddy, for being unapologetically who you are and for passing a little of that on to me.

Happy Birthday, with all my love…

 

Mom and Dad with all their children at their 50th wedding anniversary, 2008.

Mom and Dad with all their children at their 50th wedding anniversary, 2008.