My father-in-law, Jack, can tell stories for hours about growing up as a lad during the German occupation in Holland. His thick Dutch accent rolls on over the stories as we all sit snuggled on the couch listening to tales: tales of tricks the village boys would play on the Germans, stories of loss as their home was evacuated to be used as a headquarters, harrowing recaps of seeing men executed, and memories of a mother that died too young and left him, his brothers and a much longed for baby sister. Listening to him is like watching a life unfurl in front of you, from turbulent times to a hope for a better future, from scarcely surviving as an immigrant to a settled comfortable life on a Canadian farm.
(We finally convinced him to write some of it down and now we’re in the process of putting it together for the family to enjoy. At age 82 his memory astounds me. While visiting us last week he would throw out things like, “Back in the winter of 1952 I sanded those bed frames. They were black as coal.” He can recall every detail of how much he made (to the cent) as an immigrant in Canada, what a dinner of cabbage cost and how much the boarding house charged him per week.”I hardly had anything left over after I paid my room and board for the week. But at the end of every week I would go with a few Dutch friends and we’d spend 25 cents on a banana split. That was our reward for working hard all week.” He still looks satisfied as he thinks back on that banana split.)
It made me think about how people cope with loss and how they develop resiliency. If I were in psychology I would research this: what makes people resilient after tragedy? From observing others around me who have gone through very difficult times I would hypothesize two factors (among others I’m sure) play an important role. The first is this: the more a person has to do to survive the less they will be paralyzed by devastating losses. This very pursuit of survival becomes a protective and healing tactic from deep emotional wounds. I would argue the second factor is the ability to eventually look beyond one’s self and invest in others around them.
I’ll never forget speaking with Yvonne, a Cambodian friend of mine. She was recounting the horrific genocide that took place in the 1970′s when she was just a girl. “We were trying to get into Vietnam, hundreds of us Cambodians. We were so close, we just had to cross the river. We all ran into the water when suddenly they started shooting at us. I saw women around me falling face first in the water. Some were pregnant and had little children, others were old. But we couldn’t stop to help, we had to keep running.” After spending time in a Vietnamese refugee camp she was one of the few that made it out. She said what kept her going all those years was the need to survive. She didn’t deny the grief or horror but seemed to be able to compartmentalize them in a way that allowed her to move forward (note: not move on). Today she and her Cambodian husband have a ministry targeting government officials. They are spending their lives investing in Buddhist leaders, some of whom are former participants in the genocide.
I can tell you countless stories of Cambodian kids who’ve suffered abuse, burning, horrific human trafficking, and abandonment. Yes, they have issues. Who wouldn’t? But they are surviving and thriving. We’ve witnessed these kids becoming nurses and heading back to villages to care for others, becoming trained teachers of the Bible and being witnesses in their culture, some using creative ways (break dancing!) to get kids off the streets; they are resilient in the aftermath of tragedy.
There seems to be a theme in the lives who have had great adversity. They acknowledge the tragedy that has happened but they don’t stay there the rest of their lives. There is certainly a period of paralyzing grief and trauma but after a while they seem to put it to the side and add more identity to their lives. They work on surviving, creating a life for themselves, learning, and reinventing. And after the survival path is well-worn they are able to branch out and invest in society around them. The scars never leave and are integral in who they are today, however, they don’t limit their lives to the scars.
I used to think I needed to overcome grief, that it was something to work through and get beyond. Now I’m realizing there are scars we cannot escape, there is pain that may dull but never leaves. Minimizing the reality of grief is futile. Four years later there are days when losses hit me so hard I stagger. I’m forever changed by it. The friends I listed above are all changed by their grief. But instead of it limiting their lives they seem to have put a limit on how much tragedy would be allowed to consume their life.
Instead of overcoming grief, I want to learn how to live well with grief, for God’s glory and my neighbor’s good. I want that resiliency–I pray these broken dreams and painful days will produce deep perseverance and steadfastness worked by God’s grace.
A dear little girl with fuzzy dark hair and a wide-mouthed smile sends our hearts into little flip-flops.
Violet brings joy, and perhaps a bit of healing, to everyone. Her eager smile restores hope and the sparkle in her eyes beckons life.
Her warm squirmy body makes Calvin grin as he turns his head to kiss her. Sophie sings to her and Evie pretends she is a little dolly. Noah is glad to finally have someone in his room to keep him company, even if she is a girl.
How did we live without her? I never knew love could just keep growing and hearts could keep expanding. The fullness just widens with each life. Her little person and the added joy she brings to each relationship in the home is another one of His mercies.
The best time of day is when the sun is sinking behind the broken-down fence in the backyard. The sky is framed into sharp pieces by bare branches; it slowly darkens with the sundown. Night is coming and we sit snuggled warm inside. Feasting on toasted veggies and piles of fluffy rice. Darryl opens the Bible and we begin again, this daily story-telling. Truth telling.
The goals in our lives are not accomplished by heroic feats. They are built slowly by faithful plodding. One brick at a time, or perhaps it’s one story at a time. These little moments pile up and before you know it, they’ve shaped lives. Changed hearts. Impacted eternity.
God’s grace isn’t just for the ministry of well-known preachers or famous writers and thinkers. It’s there to bless the everyday plodding of ordinary folk like us. Be faithful in the small things, open the Word and start telling the story today. Pray constantly for the Spirit to seed the daily “planting” you do in a thousand ordinary ways. See God’s grace soften and produce life in little hearts.
The coffee table had a stack of Noah’s doodles and drawings this morning. Can you guess what story this is?Read More
The kids and I recently listed to A Peep Behind the Scenes. The story is rather like a Dickens novel–the good characters are so good and the ill characters so wretched, it leaves one spinning from the moral opposites always clashing.
We did love this story. Little Rosalie found a picture from a Bible, it was of the Good Shepherd carrying his lost lamb. The story captures the beauty and security found in Jesus through a little girl’s eyes. As we listened during cold winter nights it fostered a warmth in each of us and made us catch another glimpse of God’s care and goodness.
This image of a shepherd holding a little lamb has been so comforting to me lately. Calvin has had a very difficult month–respiratory infection, constant spasms and convulsions, and another lung infection. All in the course of a few weeks.
Today he is pale. His eyes have dark circles and the blood seems to have drained from his face. The two courses of antibiotics do not seem to be holding and we are battling constant secretions. Respiratory treatments are done often but his lungs are still full of fluid. He is not coughing much anymore, another sign of weakness. We suction countless times but his lungs still pop, crackle, wheeze or have little or no air movement in pockets.
He seems to be quite comfortable in spite of it all. Perhaps he is too exhausted to show discomfort. We are doing everything possible but it is not enough. For the first time I am not seeing him bounce back while on antibiotics.
The illustration Jesus gives us of Him as the Good Shepherd has been an immeasurable comfort to our family. When I see Calvin lay still with closed eyes while his stomach heaves to support his lungs, I give him into the hands of Jesus. Darryl and I pray often with him and for him, asking Jesus to give His comfort and nearness to Calvin and to keep him from panic and discomfort. We pray for a quick transition from our arms to His when it is time. We praise God that death is the last enemy for Calvin. And after that life, life with Jesus.
Nurses are in our home nearly every day, helping us with the tremendous medical needs he has, particularly during illness. One of our nurses told me she felt something very different about Calvin and our home. She is not a Christian but told me that she thinks Calvin has a “spiritual connection.” Of course my eyebrows went up (on the inside of course :); she went on to explain that she often finds Calvin looking up, waving his arms, talking and looking with wide eyes as if somebody is there. When she comes in, he stops. Or when she moves him to another room, he stops. “I take care of a lot of kids like him, but there is just a joy in him that is supernatural,” she said shaking her head. I smiled and explained about the hope we have for him because of Jesus Christ. “Well, all I know is that somebody or something is there,” she replied emphatically.
Whether or not Calvin does “see” or “hear” something, I’ll never know. BUT, we do know that God is not bound to our constraints of cognitive and physical ability. I do know that Calvin is filled with joy and a peace more consistently and abundantly than any person I’ve ever met. I don’t doubt for a minute that he knows so much more than he is able to express. I do know that the Lord loves to work in the unexpected, to give joy in broken places, to commune with little needy lambs.
We continue to carry on through these days. Sorrow is inevitable but the joy that runs deep through these days is carrying us. It’s odd to be busy with the daily duties and yet feeling powerful forces of life and death midst the cleaning and caring.
Perhaps next week Calvin will be back to himself. It has happened many times that he pops up like a little cork out of the waves of sickness. I hope so. In the meantime pray with us that we will keep our eyes on the Good Shepherd and that we will feel His arms carry us.Read More
It’s unfortunate that the nature of media constantly showers us with all the terrifically awful events associated with kids. Contrary to what headlines suggest, not all kids are on drugs, driving cars off cliffs or exhibiting violence. God’s grace is powerful; it’s a joy to see His goodness evident in kids today. The truth is that there are many kids who are creative, innovative, generous and thoughtful. There are many kids who desire to follow after Jesus Christ and serve others.This piece is about just two that made a difference in our lives. Remembering and writing about it is one way I’m counting the mercies.
She twirled her long golden braid, then tossed it over her shoulder. Her backpack hung heavy off one shoulder bursting with quickly shoved-in textbooks. “I wanted to give this to you,” she said nonchalantly, chewing gum and glancing at the mass tousled heads of the elementary crowds swarming about on their way to the buses.
The purple gift bag was ripped but I could feel its heaviness as it passed into my hand. I peeked inside and saw piles of coins filling the bag with a white envelope resting on top. ”I did a fundraiser for Calvin with a business idea I had. It went pretty good.”
$633.18 of good.
“I thought you could use it for therapy equipment or whatever he needs.”
She tossed the braid again and turned towards the buses looking back to give a cheerful wave and smile. She was in sixth grade.
“Can we stop by?” the mom had asked over the phone. It was a warm sunny spring day and visitors sounded wonderful. Calvin and I were sitting on the front steps as they pulled up the drive.
We all sat together on the front steps, crowded and enjoying each other’s company. The daughter, in middle school, turned to me with a twinkle in her eyes, “I have a surprise for you, well for Calvin really.”
She handed me an envelope and the story spilled out. “We had to do a community service project and I decided to do a read-a-thon and have people sponsor me. Here’s the print-out I made up about Calvin.” She handed me a paper with pictures of Calvin and a description of his condition and situation. “I went around the neighborhood and asked people if they would sponsor me to benefit Calvin.”
I kept Calvin swaying on my lap, my surprised look made her mom laugh. “She’s been reading and reading and reading!” she said. The girl handed me her list of books and recorded minutes of reading that spilled over pages.
“Some of our neighbors are now praying for Calvin too. We’re hoping you can use the money for equipment or things he needs.” Her shy smile stretched across her face.
These are just some of the creative schemes kids have concocted to help Calvin. With their help we’ve purchased therapy equipment (balls, bars, a chair), wheelchair parts, a thermometer and a small dresser and organizer for medical supplies.Read More
Today I’m writing at Not Alone about ways to survive those hair-pulling crisis times!
You can check it out here: Crisis Survival for Parents.
I’ve heard the body of Christ compared to an orchestra. Each person has a unique role, a different sound and function, plays for a different amount of times, swelling into one glorious song of praise to God as they use their gifts.
I’m thinking that I might be in the bass section. My writing “voice” always gravitates to the reality of pain and how to reconcile that with the hope we have in Jesus. How do suffering and joy intersect? How does the truth of the gospel change the way I respond to hard things? Acknowledging the reality of pain in a broken world makes words spill on the page. That and the solid rock hope we have in Jesus.
And since I don’t mince words when it comes to hard times, maybe I come off as the Edgar Allan Poe of the blogosphere. Need your daily dose of misery? A good cry? Head over to Kara’s blog.
In reality, our lives are rich with the goodness of God. And much of that goodness has come by the hands and feet of those around us in our family and church. In all the chaos of the last four years so many people have given of themselves. I want to write short stories about these everyday people who have been the hands and feet of God’s goodness to our family.
Maybe it will give you an idea of how to help someone you know.
Maybe you will find that although a thank you note never came in the mail (Really, this still haunts me. I wish I’d kept record! Forgive me?) you were a healing mercy and blessing!
God has woven so much blessing in with the sorrow. You see that in your life too, right? So I’m going to trade in this “writing voice” of a tuba for a piccolo and take time to the write about the joy that flows our way.
Maybe a piccolo is pushing it. Let’s go for the clarinet.Read More