Muted Color

We finally went to the ocean.

Two years ago, right before Marissa’s scheduled surgery, we had reserved and paid for a house right on the beach. She wanted to see the ocean again. But then a hurricane changed the plan, her surgery was canceled, and she moved on to radiation.

And then a change in all our plans. A change in direction, a change in perspective, a change in reality. A spiral ending in sorrow for us. Healing and joy for her.

Even now it is hard to think that my deepest heartache was her triumphant deliverance.

On the first morning at the beach house, my son and I met, unplanned and silent, in the hallway before dawn. We walked to the water’s edge in the moonlight and waited for the sun to rise. It was windy and warm, and we were witness to a quiet but stunning transformation of sky. The vibrant reds were astonishing, the beauty of the heavens spilling down around us, and we sat immobile–unable to catch it, hold it, grasp it. God’s glory seemed a tangible thing, and He was both very near and very far away.

The next morning we got everyone out of bed early to await the sunrise. We made coffee and set up cameras and waited expectantly on the shore. The sun rose, and it was lovely. But it was not what we were expecting. It was clouded and muted and subtle.

This was not the past, remembered beauty.

The Bible tells us it is good to go into the house of mourning. Deep things happen there–brokenness and the stirring of the soul. Wrestling and longing and a physical kind of hurting. Stretching, a dawning of understanding, and a painful healing. The kind of healing that changes who you are and who you long to be.

God’s glory settling down and seeping into all the dark places.

Once you have stepped in, it is hard to walk out. Sometimes I even wonder if we are meant to leave.

It is good to stay awhile. To let our eyes adjust to the dimmed light, the muting of all the colors. To see clearly gospel hope etched and illumined on every wall. To listen to all the murmuring sounds of the river of peace.

To be held gently by nail-scarred hands.

We look back on past, remembered bright colors, but they are muted–a watercolor version. We struggle with disappointment, but we trudge onward. We are in a darkened hallway, but we are waiting for and walking toward a stunning light, an unknown glory to come.

We are meant to enjoy this life’s beauty and all the good gifts our Father gives us here. But we are not despondent when the colors fade. We are beginning to love the watercolor rendition. We are learning to know the skill and the heart of the Painter.

The mourning house is refining us.

The mourning house is teaching us to long for more.

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2

 

 

Another birthday

For Rissa

You would be 28 today.

I’m thinking back to the night you were born and the sweet, damp scent of you. I’m remembering your newness and the joy of meeting you and holding you and knowing you.

I remember those first moments of seeing you. The feeling that you had always been a part of my soul, the knowing that you always would be. The lingering weight of love settling over us as we slept at last, a blanket both heavy and warm.

I remember.

I was 28 when you were formed in me. When God knitted you together and wrote your story. I’m glad I didn’t know any of it. I’m happy for those years when life swirled in vibrant color, spinning us around and making us laugh.

I’m grateful for all the memories of you. They float in my heart like shiny rainbow bubbles, and I guard them so they do not pop. There is always this fear of forgetting details.

But you, Beanie, are part of me. I am not afraid of forgetting you.

We finally went to the ocean. Remember how we had to cancel our plan to go before your surgery because of the hurricane?

And last year we just didn’t have the will to go.

We saw dolphins and shrimp boats and seagulls. I watched every sunrise and every sunset, and I remembered. How you loved the sky and the beautiful things. Books and children. Laughter and friends. God.

How you embraced all the living you were given.

We remember. We love you. We miss you so much.

Happy birthday, Rissa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t quit

The days are getting shorter, the moon glowing on my evening walk and still there in the early morning. It’s been high and bright and beautiful.

A few touches of cool. A return to school and hurry and doing.

So much hurry ahead and my steps feel slow this year.

It all just circles ’round, doesn’t it?

It’s been a summer of good-byes. First my mama, and then four other funerals at my church. I’ve grieved with families on the anniversary of their own good-byes. I’m praying for some who are right now facing such hard, heavy battles.

My neighbor is living his last days. Around the clock visitors and lights on in the wee hours of the morning. He’ll never plant his lovely garden again or laugh at our dog’s antics or offer me a bag of okra. He’ll never wave at me again on my evening walks.

I am filled to the brim with good-bye.

One of the funerals I attended was for a 98-year-old man in our church. A dear man who lived his life honorably, with purpose and good humor. A man who knew his Bible and his God. One of his favorite ways to end a conversation was with the admonition, “Don’t quit.”

And I have been repeating those words.

Don’t quit.

My children are playing soccer again. The work is good for them–the training, the running, the teamwork. But there is one thing I really want them to learn.

Don’t quit.

When you are exhausted, when it feels like you cannot finish, when there is no way to win. When you are discouraged or disheartened. When you lose your desire to finish the task or even take the next step. When you are wronged and nothing seems fair. When you are dismally failing and so disappointed in yourself or in your teammates.

Don’t quit.

And God is kneading my heart, performing CPR on my soul.

He is meeting me here. Right here in this weariness.

He is whispering, “I am with you. I will help you. Don’t quit.”

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 1 Timothy 6:12

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.  Hebrews 12:1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pieces of grief

It still surprises me when I awaken to tears and strong waves of memory, the rhythm of grief catching me off-guard and vulnerable. Even the gentle waves sometimes knock you down when you’re unsteady, when the sand shifts just so beneath your feet.

My mother’s perfume bottle sits on my dresser, along with a small bottle of essential oils that belonged to Marissa. The perfume is a happy remembrance of my mom, pearls and dress-up and celebrations. But the oils remind me of a bald-headed beauty and a cancer-ridden body. They smell a little like sadness, a little like fear.

Both scents take me back if I want them to. If I let them.

The summer air has been thick with humidity, and even walks at dusk are heavy and still. Some nights I smell crushed roses and I’m not sure if the scent is joy or sadness. Is it a lover’s bouquet or a graveside farewell?

I just can’t tell sometimes.

But there have been cotton candy clouds at sunset, all pink and golden and billowy, the kind that make you catch your breath in wonder. And every night I come home to the richest kind of love and the fullness of so many blessings.

The pieces of grief are tangled up with bits of breathless joy. And I remember the One who is weaving it all together, who is making it good.

I worship this Creator of every kind of beauty, every precious gift, every trace of joy. And when the scent of roses makes me cry, I lift my head.

I worship still.

Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works. Psalm 104:1-2, 31

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. Psalm 3:3

My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Psalm 121:2-3

 

 

 

 

 

When I come to die

Emmagene Alice Powell, November 12, 1921 – May 25, 2018

My mother is safely home.

I returned to her side only three days after leaving it. Although she was already surrounded by loving hearts and hands, it felt like important work that I needed to do. We camped out around her and spent many night hours singing and praying and saying good-bye when it seemed she would not take another breath.

Yet her final breath came mid-morning when we were wearily attempting to move into another day. She slipped away to the smell of coffee and toast and the sound of her daughters quietly chatting.

After weeks of suffering, a quiet exit. But I smile when I think of the glorious entrance on the other side.

Because of God’s grace.

I have witnessed the final breath of my father and my mother and my 26-year-old daughter. I am sobered and changed. My eyes are opened to eternity’s nearness, its reality.

A deathbed humbles us. It crushes any pretense of beauty or self-preservation. It teaches us that we are vulnerable and powerless.

Breath and life, a gift from God.

We all face death someday. We are all terminal. A final breath comes for all of us.

In that moment, it won’t matter what we own or what is in the bank. It won’t matter what we’ve accomplished or where we’ve been. Any beauty will have faded. It won’t  matter how kind we’ve been or what good we’ve done. There is not one thing we can do to ensure our entrance into paradise.

The only thing that will matter?

Our relationship with Jesus.

It’s not enough to know that He is real or that He is good. It is not enough to believe that heaven exists.

We must believe that He alone is the way. That He alone is truth and life. That He died and was buried and rose again. That if we call on Him and confess Him as Lord, He will save us. He will hold us securely forever.

There is a believing faith given to those who call on His name, to those who come. There is an eternal reward and a secure inheritance for those who are born again in Him, to those who become His children.

Faith may seem a foolish notion when we are young and healthy. We may resist its call, forge our self-reliant way. But we are made for eternity, made for God. Our deepest self becomes alive only in Him. Eventually we see overwhelming evidences of our rebellious hearts. Our disillusionment and weariness and fear are whispers of truth if we listen.

In living and in dying, we need a Savior.

On Saturday we buried the lifeless body of my sweet mother. But she was not there. She was already rejoicing with her Savior and all the saints.

When death came, it found her safe in Christ. She fell asleep in Him and awoke to the most glorious sunrise.

She awoke to the most glorious life.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.  Revelation 22:17

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:16-18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home

My sweet mama is dying.

Sometimes there is no poetry in a thing. It is just there–stark and naked and full of truth.

So many words but no rhyme at all.

I come to stay with her for two weeks. She talks of her own mama, gone over 40 years. In the night hours she reaches for things unseen, and words tumble around, senseless phrases called out in the dark. Memories and visions and fears all pressing in on her.

The rhythm changes everyday, and I marvel at the strength it takes to die. I had always thought the hardest part was the living.

But there is this valley to walk through. So dark and deep, and she keeps stumbling.

There is just nothing easy in dying, whether you’re 26 or 96.

I remind her what is on the other side.

We talk of heaven, and she can’t wait to be there. She asks me when the Lord will call her home, when her suffering will end. We talk of God and His sovereignty–how every breath is given by Him, the final one already written. How He will strengthen her and carry her to the very end.

It has been rich to be in this hospice time with her–a hovering place between life and death. Sips of cool water and loved ones gathered and night-time vigils. It’s a privilege to share in this suffering. Death, like birth, filled with such pain but with glimpses of glory.

And the hope of such glory to come. Enough to erase all the pain of this dying.

Today I am flying back home to my family for a few days, and I feel so torn between these two worlds. I say good-bye to my mama. I say all the words I know to say. I tell her not to wait for me–she will not be here much longer, but only God knows her time. Marissa seems very close in this place. When I hug her for the last time, it feels a little like I am touching both of them.

The sky is full of white clouds. There are times when I look out of the plane window and see the ground clearly and times when we are in the clouds and I see nothing at all. I know that once we get high enough, even the clouds will be clear.

My mama is almost high enough.

Soar gently, Mama.

Fly gently home.

Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you. Isaiah 46:4

 

 

 

Spring

Winter has been holding on.

We are ready for warmth and light breezes. Light and color. Sunshine and flowers.

It has been windy and cold even here in the south. And just last week there was snow falling in northern places untouched yet by spring.

Why is snow so much sadder in April than in December? (If there is snow in heaven, it is the December kind, full of joy.)

It really doesn’t matter if the calendar says it is spring. We don’t want to see pictures or have memories. It doesn’t help to know the date in our heads.

We need the warmth on our skin.

I think about the seasons of life. Some bursting with joy when all seems new. Surrounded by happiness; untouched by pain. Safe and golden and quiet.

And others we remember because our shelter has been lifted, and we are suddenly vulnerable. Assaulted by fear or disappointment. Noise and confusion and darkness.

Sometimes this season lingers awhile, and it’s easy to feel that it is here to stay. We wonder why we are left in winter when the calendar says spring.

Is spring the date on the calendar, or is it the warm breeze blowing? It is both, although there are seasons that don’t feel as truthful.

God is the truth we know. He ordains the seasons–their length, their harshness, their end. We know that winter will end because He ordained it. He set the earth in motion, and it is bound by His time–mysterious but known, varied but sure.

My mom is in a winter season. After a recent fall, she can’t seem to rally. Congestive heart failure and full-time oxygen and hospice nurses going in and out.

Sorrow, but with it, hope.

I don’t want her to let go, and I miss her already. But I know she is tired of winter.

She’s always loved flowers, and I can imagine the gardens in heaven. The lingering fragrance and quiet beauty of peace-filled walks. Light spilling through trees. I can imagine an eternal spring, the fullness of it, its music silent but stunning. I can feel the soaking warmth.

I can see her throwing off her winter coat and entering in. White-robed and clean because of Jesus. Safe and home at last. Loved and whole and young again.

One journey over, but living just begun.

And I can see Marissa showing her all the special places, all the new flowers.

I can see Marissa showing her the wonder of spring.

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 Corinthians 5:1

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:22-24

 

 

 

 

 

 

Morning

We gathered at the gravesite with candles and singing on the anniversary of her death. All the darkness of the night did not dim the light of her memory or the truth of the singing.

And since then, my soul has been so quiet.

I don’t wrestle so much with all of the questions. After one year of her being gone, I know the truth of peace like a river. Sometimes turbulent, sometimes still, but always flowing. Doubts and fears and sadness soothed by its cool waters.

Some days it feels very strong in me, this thought of having finished. That I have opened the full gift of grief and looked at it from every angle, held it gently and let it do its work. That I am changed in so many hidden places–scarred and healed, now tender and just a little strong.

Almost as if I have done the thing I was called to do, and now can rest.

But I know there is more. Grief lives in me, but it is not my only calling. There is this work being done in me that is not finished. Even in my weariness, I know to keep walking.

Morning is not here yet.

Did you know that birds start singing about an hour before the sun comes up? I suspect it is another lesson from God about waiting for the joy that comes in the morning.

Waiting, patient and filled with song. Longing. Believing that morning is almost here.

I’ve been reading about the crucifixion. I read with dread–death so close to me now and the pain of it, inescapable. I cry when I read of Jesus telling John to be a son to Mary. He knew her broken mother’s heart. He knew the long, dark night ahead.

I love His quiet power. How without any drama, He simply loved us enough to do the complete work of dying for us. Pain and blood and tears, all willingly given. His humble sacrifice of obedience stuns me. Makes me willing to love Him.

And even that willingness, a gift from Him.

This weekend we celebrate Easter. We celebrate an empty grave and a resurrected Savior. We believe in a victory that swallows up death because of the God-man who conquered it. We believe in eternal life with our King and the lover of our souls. We believe He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. The Living Water and the Vine and the Door. The Bread and the Light and the Resurrection.

Yes, we believe in the resurrection.

We are the morning people.

We are singing. Singing and waiting for morning.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? John 11:25-26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One year: things unseen

Marissa Alice BundyOctober 2, 1990March 6, 2017

One year ago, we stopped running, stopped fighting, stopped hoping. We gathered around a deathbed. We sang songs and we prayed and we wept.

We walked with Marissa through her darkest valley, and then we watched her go.

One year ago, my beautiful, funny, feisty girl lay on a rented hospital bed in the middle of our living room. She died in the same place she had celebrated birthdays and Christmas, in the same room where she had played with dolls and won at Clue and got lost in stories.

She died in the same room where she had lived. Had laughed and hoped and loved.

She breathed her last measured breath, and she did not come back to us.

It has been spring-like and warm here, but this storm of remembrance hits me like a gust of winter wind.

One year ago.

I can visualize this scene and all of its heartache. In my mind’s eye, I can see the remnants of a great battle–pain pump, oxygen tank, and wheelchair. A father’s head bowed low. Sorrow etched on a mother’s profile. Falling tears on young faces.

The shadows of suffering. The heavy gray of grief.

But there are so many things happening in that scene that we cannot see. Those things are just as real. Just as certain.

Eternal and unbroken.

The presence of God, behind and before and surrounding. Always there in the midst of even this thick darkness.

The providence of God, orchestrating every detail with eternal and loving design.

The purposes of God, each one being fulfilled with kind intent.

Peace with God in the heart of the dying one. A soul washed clean in the blood of Christ. Steadfast hope in His saving power.

Faith strumming steadily in hurting hearts. Belief in a loving God.

God, parenting with loving wisdom. Keeping all of His promises to His children. Holding fast to His covenant.

Moving silently. Securely holding the dying one. Counting her final breath lovingly, and joyfully beckoning His sweet child home. Welcoming her and unveiling the wonders of the place He has prepared for her.

His hand catching the tears of the ones left behind. Gently storing them up in a bottle.

We can’t see submission to the Father’s will. Faith blossoming in a brother’s heart. The strengthening of weary souls.

We can’t see death swallowed up in victory. Heaven and its certain hope for those who are in Christ. The comfort of the Holy Spirit.

We cannot see the end of the story. We cannot see eternity with God. We cannot see the healing or the saving or the keeping.

We cannot see the redeeming.

We are waiting for it. For the unveiling of all this truth. We are longing.

But Marissa now knows fully and is fully known.

Her eyes are opened.

She sees her Savior. She sees her God.

She sees the panoramic beauty of all the valleys, all the mountains.

She sees it all.

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18

 

 

 

 

 

Dreams

I do not dream about her.

Or at least I don’t remember if I do. I rarely remember what happens in my dream world.

But one morning I wake with a sense of lingering fear. My heart is pounding and the dream is still with me. I am in a beautiful forest and there is a glistening lake in front of me. My children are scattered. I don’t actually see any of them, but I know they are there. Some in the water, some on the shore. It should be a pleasant place, but I feel uneasy. Then I see why–a large bear is swimming in the shadows. I can only see his head, and he is swimming silently, but I know to be afraid. I know the danger. I stand up to shout a warning. But I have no voice.

This great danger and I have no voice.

And I cannot find my children.

The dream stays with me through the day. Later that night my daughter comes into my room at bedtime. My husband is already asleep next to me, but she has had a hard day and so she climbs into the bed beside me. She is mourning some new, hard thing. And I am whispering assurances and truths and comfort. I am reminding her to be brave.

But as we lay there in the dark with our hair interwoven on my pillow, I begin thinking of all the hard things. I am thinking of youthful yearnings and all that is unsure and unknown. I am remembering some achingly somber moments. I am thinking of all the battles, won and lost and yet to be.

I am remembering Marissa.

And then I think of my dream and the bear swimming so close to my children.

I hold her hand tightly, and I try not to cry.

I try not to be afraid.

A gradual, gentle light arises in this darkness, this palpable darkness. God speaks into my heart. He soothes my fears by reminding me of the truth of Him. He whispers peace.

All of the new, hard things are His. He will be there, always present. I can rest in His promises. I can trust in Him. I can surrender all of my cares, all of my burdens to His heart.

He carries my burdens, the burdens of my children.

He will not let me go.

It is an every day faith. An every day surrender. An every day trust.

I feel the weight and strength of it. The praise of it. Its sureness.

Faith. A gift and a promise. A truth.

I lift this knowing into the darkness.

And when she leaves, I turn and move very close to the warmth of my husband. The moon gives just a breath of light, but it is not the only light I see.

I close my eyes and sleep.

I sleep soundly, and I do not dream at all.

Light arises in the darkness for the upright. Psalm 112:4

Be strong and let your heart take courage all you who hope in the Lord. Psalm 31:24

The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1