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.”

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.

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 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.
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,

All my posts are on my blog at 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

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,
        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 along with links to:
        Carol's Memorial,
        and Kelly’s Blog