Monday, June 25, 2018

The interim time - part 3

Dear Family and Friends,

"How are you doing?" you ask. I answer, "I'm OK.” That is pretty much my standard answer. OK is an all purpose expression that depending on voice tone can have meanings ranging from the enthusiastic (OK! let’s do this!) to the unenthusiastic “meh” (How was the party? It was … OK). The context also modifies the meaning and in the context of Carol’s passing you are wanting to know about my well being, if I’m handling things and getting on with life. So when I answer “I’m OK.” it could mean “acceptable” in contrast to “bad.” Or it could mean “mediocre” in contrast to “good.” You walk away thinking my current well being is not all bad but it is not all great. It must be somewhere in between. Sometimes, that is what I mean. Life goes on. But when I take the time to think about the important things, not just the ups and downs of life, the answer is much longer. It’s more like, “I’m where I’m supposed to be.” “Really?” you ask. “OK, here is the long explanation.”

It was necessary to summarize the years of 2016 and 2017 in the previous posts as they provide the background and context for what follows. Another meaning of OK is “agreement” (“That is OK with me.”) or “assent” (“The mother gave her the OK to go to the game.”) Sometimes I use OK as in giving myself permission, as in “It’s OK to not be used to it yet.”

There are feelings and behaviors that are there because they are a part of my tacit experience with Carol. There are so many things we did together that were understood without being directly stated. For example, I knew I had Carol’s tacit approval to invite friends over for a card game. I had come to tacitly know what would please or displease Carol. Now that she is not here, the tacit behavior takes a long time to find a new normal. So, sometimes my best answer is, “I’m not used to it yet, and that’s OK.” For example, in late February, early March, my daughter Kelly and I drove Carol’s car from California to North Carolina for my grandson to use while in the Army. After returning home, I was experiencing sad, uneasy feelings because I tacitly knew Carol would have enjoyed the road trip. I knew how much her presence, pleasure, joy, comments and interactions would have contributed to everyone’s enjoyment of the trip. It was a great trip but I missed her interactions with the people we visited. I missed what I tacitly knew it could have been. That is OK, my feelings and behaviors are adjusting to a new normal. It will take some time as new experiences replace the old ones.

Another way I give myself permission is to periodically review my story. Beginning in June of 2015 I began recording three things for which I am grateful in a journal. I do this about twice a week. Once in a while I will page back through the journal and reflect …. that first year, I am amazed at the care and touches of family and friends …. how insecure I was as indicated by what I was grateful for. Page after page I see my writing slowly changing to confidence in God’s provision and care for me. I can see my grief over Carol’s death is shifting just enough that I’m wanting to feel back to normal. Reviewing my gratitude journal helps me see a bigger picture of my story. More importantly, it tells me it takes time to take it all in. This journey doesn’t happen in a day. Everything— the grief, friends presence, a family’s care, God’s presence, assurances from His Word, the green grass, birds singing, blue sky, a fresh breeze reminds me of Deuteronomy 2:7 where Moses is reminding the children of Israel, “Surely the LORD your God has blessed you in all your undertakings, he knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.” Reviewing my story reminds me I’m OK. I’m where I’m supposed to be in this journey.

But there is more. When I say, I’m OK, it is not just giving myself permission to “not be used to it yet” and reminding myself “I’m where I’m supposed to be” in this journey. There is a weekly and daily component to being OK. Our daily lives are a mixture of good times as well as bad. There are times that seem long and pointless. Times when I’m tempted to lose hope. When will this be over? Occasional times of loneliness, fear and anxiety. So what does one do? There are two authors that have given me perspective on both the good and bad times. Their words are better than mine to help explain.

Tish Harrison Warren in her book, Liturgy of the Ordinary is helping me learn to live in the present. She talks about the reality that we do not control time in the chapter titled, “Sitting in Traffic.”
        “Christians are people who wait. We live in liminal time, in the already and not yet.
         Christ has come, and he will come again. We dwell in the meantime. We wait.
             …
         Waiting, therefore, is an act of faith in that it is oriented toward the future.
         Yet our assurance of hope is rooted in the past, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth
         and in his promises and resurrection. In this way, waiting, like time itself,
         centers on Christ—the fulcrum of time.
             …
         In waiting God has … sown … things that only grow with time—
         with changing seasons and bated breath.
             …
         The future orientation of Christian time reminds us that we are people on the way.
         It allows us to live in the present as an alternative people, patiently waiting for what is to come,
         but never giving up on our telos. We are never quite comfortable. We seek justice,
         practice mercy, and herald the kingdom to come…
         God is redeeming all things, and our lives—even our days—are part of that redemption.”
1


Being OK is learning to live in the present with hope. The other side of that coin is learning to relax in God’s care.

J. Todd Billings in his book, Rejoicing in Lament, says,
        “I don’t have faith in faith; I have faith in God and his promises. As Jesus says in John 3:3,
        ’No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above’—we can’t even ’see’
         the kingdom apart from the work of the Spirit. We don’t deserve credit for this ‘seeing.’
        We don’t trust in our own sight of faith. We trust in God. … We don’t hope in hope.
        We hope in a God who can make dry bones of hopelessness live again (Ezek 37)—
        the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead can surely resurrect my hope from the ashes,
        for we have something better to trust in than ourselves, better than our own heroic ‘faith.’
        We have a God who does not forsake his work in us because it is, after all, his work
        and his covenantal promise to be our God.
2


I’m OK because God hasn’t given up on me. Relax George, your present and future doesn’t depend on you. It is His work in me in His time. Being OK in the daily ups and downs has to do with being secure in the present and the future. I’m slowly getting there.

"How are you doing?" you ask. I answer,
       “Well …
              2016 - was a time of sadness. A time to be silent and listen.
              2017 - was a time of waking up. A shifting of focus. A new way of seeing.
                         Learning a new definition of self as time passed.
             2018 - is becoming a time of assurance. I’m learning God hasn’t given up on me.
                        I’m sensing that God is writing the rest of my story… learning to relax and allow Him to put the pieces together …
                        Oh, you want the short answer. I’m OK.”

           But as for me, my prayer is to you O LORD.
                At an acceptable time, O God,
                in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.

                                        Psalm 69:13

           But I trust in you, LORD;
           I say, “You are my God.”
           My times are in your hands;

                                        Psalm 31:14,15a

Writing is good therapy for me. Thanks for listening.  Grace to you ….  George

        1  Tish Harrison Warren (2016) Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred practices in everyday life, InterVarsity Press
        2  J. Todd Billings, (2015) Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ, Brazos Press

All my posts are on my blog at http://www.paravel.com along with links to:
        Carol's Memorial,
        and Kelly's Blog

Sunday, June 10, 2018

The interim time - part 2

Dear Family and Friends,

I know, the previous post was a downer.

Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.
              — C.S. Lewis in The Silver Chair 1

2017 was a year of very slowly shifting focus. Don’t get too excited. There were no big changes. It was very slow, almost imperceptible. But there was a shifting of perspective, of seeing. It is difficult to articulate because there are no illustrations to say, “It is like this.” But there were a few events that provide some insight. So here goes, I’ll try to explain.  

The beginning of the shifting focus was, well …. It was not acceptance. It was not getting over it. It was not coming to terms with her death. It was sort of like waking up or being startled by someones presence. It actually began in early 2016 while reading Max Lucado’s book, Glory Days.2 Max was recounting God talking to Joshua and saying, “Moses is dead. Now arise and ….”  I was startled. It was as if God said to me, “Carol is dead. Now arise and … “ It was one of those, “Are you speaking to me?” moments. It was an activation of my awareness to start looking for God’s guidance in the future. It didn’t change anything and nothing seemed to happen for the rest of the year. I was just more alert.

In February of 2017 I was once again startled. Imagine you are having a conversation with a friend. The conversation goes back and forth until you both come to the point where you agree you understand each other on some point. You both respond, “Yes, that is what I mean.” This event was sort of like that. My Bible reading that day was in Psalm 25:1. “In you, LORD my God, I put my trust.” I imagine, like me, our Bible reading is mainly on the intellectual level. I understand it intellectually. This was David talking to God and that is the end of it. This time it was a very personal conversation. I was having a conversation with God and God was telling me, “That’s right. That is exactly what you are supposed to do.” And I was responding, “That is exactly what I want to do. Put my trust in You.” We had come to agreement. It was a shift from reading to coming to an understanding with God. It is hard to describe. But there it was. A whole different experience of waking up.

The third example takes some explaining. I’ve written before about being "on guard" in my interactions with people especially the few months after Carol’s passing. It was important to be alert to situations in which I might become emotional, tear up. It could happen quickly and blindside me. So I would avoid situations where I might lose it and I would check myself to see if I was emotionally handling the current situation. After a couple of years, being “on guard” fades into the background and so I was surprised by how unprepared I was for a similar yet different event. In March of 2017 we took my grandson to the hotel where he was to catch a bus as he was entering the army. The feelings of him disappearing from my life were so familiar… the same that I have for Carol being gone. Even after two and a half years, I didn’t realize how close those feelings were to the surface. All of us as family were grieving, but this time there was something different. There was one whose grief was greater than mine. I saw a mother’s loss. She too, was bearing another loss. I became aware of yet another facet of waking up. Grief gives you insight, a new way of seeing and sharing. No words are needed, only presence and hugs. We are connected in our grieving.

So 2017 was a year of waking up. My intellectual understanding of grieving together, prayer and God’s presence took on new meanings for which I have no words. Perhaps It is best expressed in this portion of Gwen Flowers’ poem titled, Grief. 3

          “ …
               There is absorption.
                    Adjustment.
                    Acceptance.
And grief is not something you complete,
            But rather, you endure.
         Grief is not a task to finish
                  And move on,
        But an element of yourself-
        An alteration of your being.
            A new way of seeing.
          A new definition of self.”

So 2017 was a year of waking up, new ways of seeing, an alteration of my being. In my next post I will finally try to answer the question, “So George, how are you doing?”

 … George

        1 C. S. Lewis, reprint edition (2002) The Silver Chair, HarperCollins
        2 Max Lucado, (2017) Glory Days: Trusting the God Who Fights for You, Thomas Nelson
        3 Gwen Flowers, (2015) Grief, https://www.all-greatquotes.com/i-had-my-own-idea-of-grief-i-thought-it-was-the-sad-time-that-followed/

All my posts are on my blog at http://www.paravel.com along with links to:
        Carol's Memorial,
        and Kelly's Blog

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The interim time - part 1

Dear Family and Friends,

It has been over two years since I have written and shared how I’m doing. You have all been polite and haven’t asked. I figure it is time I try to put it in words. So this writing will be about the year 2016. I will follow up with one for 2017.

During 2016 I don’t know how many times I said, “Oh Carol, I wish you were here.” I would say it to myself. I was surprised by how much humor and joy was gone when she was not here. It was definitely not as much fun. I missed those interactions with her. When people would ask how I was doing, the usual answer was, “I’m OK.”  I actually didn’t know how to answer the question.

But the truth was, there were times I was not OK.  2016 was a difficult year for me. I know many of you have traveled a similar path. Each path is unique and I was learning about loneliness and absence and how one tries to get on with life. As I look back over that year, my attempts at getting on with life had not seemed to be successful. I seemed to be at the same place I was at the end of 2015. In general, 2016 was an “interim” time, a time of not much progress or movement. 

But neither was it all dark. God was faithful and encouraged me through a friend who makes lunch appointments with me every couple of weeks. Another who calls me regularly, every week or so. There were card games with friends and family. There were refreshing trips to visit family in Wyoming and Arizona. There was the distraction and comfort of a church small group and the fellowship of the men in Celebrate Recovery.

And God brought books across my path that were what I needed at the time. Here are three quotes as examples. When I didn’t know how to express how it feels, there was N. T. Wright in Lent For Everyone saying, “…darkness has descended and there is nothing to make you think, ‘It will be all right.’ It won’t. It can’t be. The worst has occurred and nothing will ever be the same. That’s how it feels.1

When I was trying to connect the dots and think about what’s next, there was J. Todd Billings in Rejoicing in Lament saying, “Our story is not endless. Our story is not full of limitless possibilities. It has a shape— and we are not, in fact, the author of the story. We are finite creatures, not creators who know no limits. We live in the story, and while we can act in genuine freedom, we are not the master of a choose-your-own-adventure novel…. 'It’s not your job to fashion your own success as if you were God. It’s not your job to write the last chapter of your life. It’s not your job to tie up the loose ends. It’s not your job to make sense of everything. Your life is hid with Christ in God: Let it be your highest act of faith and faithfulness to leave it there! Leave the ambiguity of discipleship at the cross. Let God gather up the fragments. Let God finish the story.' 2 3

And when I thought I ought to sit down and write about my feelings there was Lore Ferguson Wilbert in “Christianity Today” saying, But sometimes (not always) the best thing to do is to be silent. To listen. To hear. To experience emotions without immediately finding a place for them. To resist the urge to make a story with a beginning, middle, and end out of our ongoing brokenness and frailty.”

So it was an interim year of emotions and feelings and not being able to express them. It was a time to be silent and listen. When words fail, sometimes music gives it expression. My playlist on Pandora was very melancholy.  It was a year of sadness. A song that expresses the year for me is “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables. If you are familiar with the story it is a prayer by a mother for her boy on the barricades of the French revolution. This version by “The Piano Guys” says musically what I had been feeling that year.  It still brings tears to my eyes. 

        Bring Him Home   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mJ08-pyDLg

So 2016 ended about where I started the year. It just was. It was a time of sadness. A time to be silent and listen. In the next post I will share about 2017.

… George


        1 N. T. Wright, (2012) Lent For Everyone: Luke, Year C, Westminster John Knox Press
        2 John L. Thompson, “An Exhortation to Martyrdom” (Pasadena, CA: Fuller Theological Seminary, 1997), 4 ppt://documents, fuller.edu/sot/faculty/thompson_john/Exhortation.pdf.
        3 J. Todd Billings, (2015) Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ, Brazos Press


All my posts are on my blog at http://www.paravel.com along with links to:
        Carol's Memorial,
        and Kelly’s Blog

Friday, December 11, 2015

Why I like choirs...some thoughts for Christmas

I grew up in a church where there were hymnals and the choir and congregation sang four part harmony. In my teen years a parishioner worked with four of us teens to develop a quartet. I sang bass and it was this experience that developed my ear for harmony and the enjoyment of singing with others to create something beautiful.

I’ve had the opportunity to sing in a few choirs over the years. Of course there was the work and discipline of practicing…having the pianist pound out our parts for us. But when it came to performance time you reaped a reward in ways that are hard to describe unless you too have participated in a group performance. The performance itself brings pleasure and joy and as C. S. Lewis says, "are not tacked on to the activity … but are the activity itself in consummation."  You are sad when it is over. If only you could return to that state of joy, each of us contributing to the activity.

In Timothy Keller’s book, Prayer, there is a section on how prayer is meant not to be just a private event but a communal event. It goes like this:
      “C. S. Lewis argues that it takes a community of people to get to know an individual person. Reflecting on his own friendships, he observed that some aspects of one of his friend’s personality were brought out only through interaction with a second friend. That meant if he lost the second friend, he lost the part of his first friend that was otherwise invisible. ‘By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.’ 1 If it takes a community to know an ordinary human being, how much more necessary would it be to get to know Jesus alongside others? By praying with friends, you will be able to hear and see facets of Jesus that you have not yet perceived.
     That is why, Lewis thinks, that the angels in Isaiah 6 are crying, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ to one another. Each angel is communicating to all the rest the part of the glory it sees. Knowing the Lord is communal and cumulative, we must pray and praise together. That way ‘the more we share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.’ 23

And that is why I like choirs…even better to participate in a choir. The beauty of it is that it scales up so beautifully…the larger the better. I’ve been in gyms and stadiums where everyone was singing and there is nothing like it…think what heaven will be like.

During this Christmas season, when the world seems dark, put on a good set of earphones so you can hear all the parts, and take time to rejoice and sing this song with me and The Vocal Majority Chorus. May this be our prayer. He is our hope.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lev0t3iDBkk

…George

1 C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt, 1960), 61
2 Ibid., 62
3 Timothy Keller, Prayer (New York: Dutton, 2014), 119

All my posts are on my blog at http://www.paravel.com along with links to:
        Carol's Memorial,
        and Kelly's Blog

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Becoming Like Little Children

This is the one year anniversary of Carol's passing. I am slowly winding my way through the thinking part of coming to terms with her death. What follows is where I am on this one year marker.

People sometimes say to a grieving person, "so and so is in a far better place." They are well meaning and they want it to be comforting. I am not criticizing here but making an observation. Those words are true but they don't bring comfort, at least not right away. The truth is words don't initially bring comfort, your presence brings comfort. Words come much later. I have thought about that "far better place." Often we think of that far better place in terms of the absence of negative things such as no more pain, sorrow and tears. That is promised in scripture as being true. But scripture also gives indications of positive things that go to the core of our being and purpose that make the trials of this life seem as nothing. For me, those positives are encased the words Joy and Glory. They are difficult to talk about. After all, we are still on this side of the door to heaven and have only experienced them highly filtered through our earthly body and experiences. What would it be like to experience them unfiltered?

I have had two fleeting realizations of that far better place. The first one happened a few minutes after Carol passed away. I had this fleeting realization that Carol now knows what it is to be with God and I don't. Packaged into that sudden realization were all these thoughts: she is home, she knows what she was made to be and do, she knows her place, she can do it, she is experiencing the joy of participating, of being a part of, it is shear joy and glory and wonder all mixed together.

The second realization happened in a church service several months after her passing. The few months before Carol passed away, she could not stand for long periods of time and so would be seated while singing. I would stand next to her and could see her in my peripheral vision, singing with hands raised. I've come to realize that she was practicing for the real thing. Now, several months later I had this fleeting realization that once again, we were both worshiping…Carol in heaven and me in this church service. The contrast between my worship and her worship stunned me. She was really worshiping and I was playing at it. I was worried about how I looked. I wasn't joining in and participating. I was self absorbed. I didn't see the glory in it. Carol was participating in real worship, experiencing God sharing His glory with her. She was accepted, welcomed and taken into the dance…it was glorious.

If there is one word that expressed my experience of Carol it would be "joy." Joy was a characteristic of her being. More than happiness, it was an inner well being that made her eyes shine. On the fireplace mantel of our house in San Jose were ceramic letters spelling joy. We had purchased them in a gift shop in Rocky Mountain National Park back in 1970. They were a constant reminder to me of the joy expressed in Carol's life. Walk around our house and you will find the word "Joy" in surprising places. For example, there is a silver heart inscribed with the word "Joy" on the table next to the couch. You pick it up and it makes a harp-like sound.

"I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." John 15:11

Jesus said these words before His death. I struggle with the idea of joy and death in the same sentence. But when I think about just the joy part…joy that is complete shines out of a person as the result of being involved in something that is magnificent and beautiful. As a participant you can observe the glory and participate at the same time. The participation includes knowing your role and doing it well, making a unique contribution and being valued for it, and being appreciated and welcomed. The joy of participation wants to make you jump up and down. 

Words just don't describe what I am trying to convey. There is a video clip that for me illustrates the joy of participation. It is not quite 5 minutes long. Watch it to the end and notice the faces when possible. The song is about seeing something magnificent. Notice how all are participating…even the audience gives approval as the choir reflects the beauty of what they have seen…enjoy.

http://youtu.be/QmDGntpZC3I

There is nothing quite like participating in something that is bigger than you and that makes joy complete. It is what you were made to do. So, my idea of heaven is where we will participate together and whatever we are doing will bring joy. But wait, there is more! There is the promise of glory made possible by the work of Christ. C. S. Lewis describes it this way in his sermon, "The Weight of Glory."

"It is written that we shall 'stand before' Him…The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God … to be a real ingredient  in the divine happiness … to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son--it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But it is so."

There are some familiar images that help me understand what Lewis is getting at. One is of a father tossing his son in the air and catching him while the child says, "Do it again, daddy, do it again!" Another image is of a parent praising a child whose looking down at his feet, sheepishly glancing at his parent, toes pointed inward, hands behind his back, twisting from side to side and radiating happiness that he has pleased his parent. Then there is a group of school children that just finished a performance and joyfully looking at their teacher with raised hands and shouting, "We did it!" Most of us have witnessed such moments. These moments of desire, pleasure and joy as Lewis says, "are not tacked on to the activity … but are the activity itself in consummation."

Lewis describes it far better than I and you might like to read the full sermon. It is not an easy read, but it is worth it. I have to read it slowly or out loud to follow his logic. It is 9 pages in length…about half way through you will see where the logic is taking you.

http://www.verber.com/mark/xian/weight-of-glory.pdf

So, being with God, or heaven, is where one is accepted, valued as unique and participates in a significant way. You have a contribution that only you can give and doing that brings shear joy. It will be what you were made to do. Whatever we will be doing in heaven we will be doing it together and every person will be uniquely contributing to the glory of God.  The video and Lewis' sermon illustrate it as best I can imagine here on earth…our chief duty is to enjoy God…to do what we were made to do.

"We speak God's wisdom . . . which He predestined before the ages to our glory. . . . 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, God has prepared for those who love him.'"
       I Corinthians 2:7-9

So those fleeting realizations, this thinking about a far better place, and attempting to express the essence of joy and glory are attempts to uncover those longings and desires for our true home where Carol is experiencing it and we cannot conceive it. So why did I go down this path? Well, I think I think, if Carol is experiencing that for which she was made in such unfiltered joy and glory, then all I can say is, OK, I wouldn't want her to come back to this existence just to relieve my being apart from her. She is in a far better place indeed. It doesn't relieve the ache of missing you Carol…but happy anniversary! In my tears there is the faint hope that someday they will be turned to joy and that I too will be welcomed into that great dance by God Himself. Me too, Lord, me too.

I've gone through my notes and journaling and thought out loud with you as I have tried to think through my grief. I need to take a break from this writing. Maybe there will be more later and if so I will send it out. Thank you so much for listening. Your prayers and comments let me know of your love and tears as well. Thank you.

Someday, may God Himself, the God of peace and joy welcome us all into the great dance. What joy and glory that will be.

…George

All my posts are on my blog at http://www.paravel.com along with links to:
        Carol's Memorial,
        and Kelly's Blog

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Reminders


The winds of March that make my heart a dancer
A telephone that rings but who's to answer?
Oh, how the ghost of you clings
These foolish things remind me of you
...
How strange, how sweet, to find you still
These things are dear to me
They seem to bring you so near to me

The sigh of midnight trains in empty stations
Silk stockings thrown aside dance invitations
Oh how the ghost of you clings
These foolish things
Remind me of you

Rod Stewart singing "These Foolish Things" on "The Great American Songbook" (2002)
Carol liked to listen to the old standards and often listened to this CD.

Dear Family and Friends,

I have spent some time over the past year going through Carol's desk, folders, papers and records…cleaning and organizing. I have a long ways to go to finish the job…maybe one more year. A lot of it is memorabilia that I want to pass on to my children so I have nine large 3-ring binders into which I am attempting to organize the material.

Sorting through this memorabilia has given me a renewed sense of gratitude for how God has guided and protected us. There are reminders of our children's growing up years…certificates, awards, report cards. There are family genealogy records. There are records of Carol's trips during the illness of her mother, the illness of her Dad and their passing. There are reminders of my layoff, the selling of our home and downsizing, the amazing guidance and miracles of provisions, debt free as God guided step by step. There are notes Carol kept dealing with all the medical issues of her last year…appointments, X-rays, insulin instructions, various drug effects and warnings, consent and discharge papers. All these bits and pieces add up to an amazing life where several things really stand out.

First, Carol seriously studied the Bible. There are eight 3-ring binders full of BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) notes and worksheets…written on both sides. It must be a stack of paper at least 12 inches high. There were hours and hours of serious study over many years. When on road trips she often made arrangements to attend BSF classes in cities through which we were traveling.

Carol prayed for people. I found so many prayer lists for people in the BSF and small groups she attended. Prayer was vital to her life. Most likely, she prayed for you. I know she did for me. I've often mentioned how Carol hunkered down with God during the last year of her life….it is now no surprise. She was grounded in the Bible and prayer.

Carol was a reader. In addition to all the books in her bookcase there are pages of book lists, book series, and notes about the plots. She read The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw along with four other books on WWII so she could talk with her dad about his involvement in D-day. She read many book series such as The Walk by Richard Paul Evans, books by Mitch Albom and many mystery authors.

Carol took care of me. She made sure I had books on grace. One of my characteristics is to be a perfectionist that works hard to earn my way into God's good graces. She told me several times that I did not understand grace and gave me books on grace on different occasions. One birthday she gave me, In the Grip of Grace by Max Lucado and wrote in the flyleaf,
        "My hope and prayer for you as you read this book
         is that you will fully realize the limitless grace that God has bestowed on you,
         and that you will never doubt the gift."

What can I say? Carol gave me the gift of grace.

Grieving does something to a person that forces one beyond intellectual understanding. I've heard others mention it and I have found it true for me, that when grieving your core skills and interest in them disappear. I've been a teacher. I developed technical training materials for 35 years. I've taught Bible classes and small groups for most of my life. Intellectually, I know the stories and the gospel message. All of that disappeared for much of this year. I don't have the energy or mental capability to deal with it. Those skills do slowly return but they are very elusive and require way too much mental energy. I don't go there any more. I don't want to return to what was. Yet there are these reminders to which I have a vague recollection. It is like coming out of a fog to something new but I have no idea what that is. The cloud dissipates slowly. Grieving is forcing me to come to terms with grace…to being a "me," not a "we."

On one of my trips to visit my mother this past year we were cleaning out the bunkhouse and came across a bag of Guidepost magazines. Mom wanted to give them to a medical office to put in their waiting room so people could read them. I put the bag in my truck and it ended up in my bedroom next to my bookcase back in California. Months later I was having difficulty going to sleep and needed to change my "going-to-bed" routine. No more TV, no news before bed…instead I decided to read before bed two or three articles from Guideposts and then list three things for which I am grateful in a notebook. I have been at this now for 5 months. I am about to finish the stack, just a couple left.

There have been several articles that were helpful and encouraging but I struggled for awhile with the articles about miraculous healings. Carol's story is not one of physical healing. Where does Carol's story fit in with all these stories I was reading? I came to realize I wasn't thinking straight. Being healed is not the singular proof of God's presence. God's presence is also with those who are not healed, even more so for those who go through suffering. Unfortunately, those stories of God's presence through suffering are not the ones that get published…but I got to see Carol's story up close and personal. God was certainly present.

Thanks Carol, thanks mom…for all the reminders. I am slowly becoming more grateful and aware of God's grace. The reminders are not foolish things but actually wise things. And yes, it still aches when reminded. I wouldn't want it any other way.

In the next post I will describe what is helping me come to terms with it all. Blessings …. George

Go to http://www.paravel.com for links to:
        Carol's Memorial,
        George's Blog and
        Kelly's Blog

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Lessons from the Cemetery

       My mind still talks to you.
       My heart still looks for you.
       My soul is not yet convinced you are not coming back.

Dear Family and Friends,

Our family was never in the habit of visiting the graves of family that had gone on before. So it has been a new experience for me. The cemetery where Carol is buried is close, just a couple of minutes away and across the street from the grocery store where I shop. I have found myself dropping by a couple of times a week….just to talk, tell her I miss her.

Carol made a friend at the community church we attended the last couple of years. We always sat in the same section at church. Her friend no longer attends the community church but she regularly leaves a potted plant by Carol's grave marker. I make it a point to care and water the plants she leaves.

Sundays are a good day to visit the cemetery. Many people come by to pay their respects to a loved one. Because of the draught in California the cemetery has stopped watering the grass. The lawns have all died except for a few here and there where the loved ones engineer some way to get water on their loved ones grave. I watched an old gentlemen carefully tend his loved one's grave site, raking it by hand to remove the leaves and twigs. And then carefully watering the flowers and grass. A beautiful site of green and color among the sea of brown.

I don't know what triggers it, but once in a while, not often, I have a vivid memory of watching Carol take her last breaths. In response, my mind just says, "No, no, no, no, no nooooo!" My mind tries to push the memory away. So some of my trips to the cemetery are to convince myself that it really happened…she did die.  I stand beside her grave thinking, "OK, it really did happen. There is the grave marker." Strangely, the cemetery has a reality that helps me find my way back into life.

Which brings me to the reality of you, the people in my life. I have written about things that are hard, one of which is going out and being social. That I have to gear up for it. At first, it is hard but it does get better. You may think you don't want to put me through the pain of socializing but there is something that is harder than being social, and that is grieving alone…loneliness is far worse. So never hesitate to invite or drop by for a visit. When we are together there is a sort of tacit understanding between us of recognition that Carol is not here and we miss her, but we are here. We don't need to talk about it. Just being and doing things together is helping me experience the reality of relationships without Carol. You, the living, are helping me find my way back into life.

Another part of finding my way back into life is the slow turning from self focus to other focus. Individualism and self focus is so much a part of our culture.  We live in the illusion that we are in control. I so much wanted to fix Carol's situation. I want God to fix my situation. These are not the paths I would have chosen for us. Instead, I saw Carol walk with God, drawing closer and closer. I suspect she wanted to be closer to God than to be fixed. Carol's focus is found in Psalm 104:33, NRSV.

         "I will sing to the Lord as long as I live,
          I will sing praise to my God while I have being."

May that become true for you and me.

Until next time, grace to you ….. George

Go to http://www.paravel.com for links to:
        Carol's Memorial,
        George's Blog and
        Kelly's Blog