Good Grief! Is that possible?

good-grief-charlie-brown“Good grief!”

It’s one of those ironic, oxymoronic phrases that people have worked into their vocabulary to express incredulity at a thing or person. I don’t know its origin (unless it was Charlie Brown), but I have always been interested in the fact that the phrase even exists.

Last night found my wife and I at Greenwood Funeral Home in Fort Worth for the second time in a couple months. This time we were there for friends of our family.

Standing next to the grieving widow, who happens to be a very dear and longtime friend and a tremendously good-to-the-core woman, I searched for words.

I didn’t want to offer the oft-repeated, cliched stuff.

“He’s in a better place.”

“He’s not suffering anymore.”

“You will see him again.”

As true and comforting as these things are, they only mitigate the loss. They provide hope and a measure of healing, I’m sure. But what can be said? What words can be found to reach into the grieving heart of one whose soul mate, or father, or son has been taken?

Just moments before, while I waited for other friends and comforters to clear so I could take my turn at comforting my friend, I was talking to another dear couple. They, too, have been an intricate part of our lives for a very long time. They are as fine a Christian couple as one is apt to find.

She hugged me and said, “You are a wordsmith. You speak to my soul with such clarity.”

I can’t remember when a compliment meant more to me, especially considering the source was a woman I greatly admire as an example of what being an influencer for Christ is all about.

I never felt better.

Moments later, I am hugging my grieving friend. I am a wordsmith. I am a worsdmisth!

I am…lost for words.

“I wish I could find the words,” I told her, “That would make it better.”

“Well, Gene,” she replied with a smile that warmed my soul, “If you can’t find them, no one can.”

I never felt worse. Never felt more inadequate for the task at hand.

“If there’s anything I can do…”

How many times had she heard that in the past hour?

“We love you.”

Maybe that was the best I could say. Maybe that was all I could do.

And so it is with grief. All the well-wishes and covered dishes in the world won’t heal a broken heart or plug the hole left when one you have spent a lifetime loving is gone.

That doesn’t mean you don’t express your love and support. That doesn’t mean you don’t pray, pray, pray for comfort and peace. That doesn’t mean you don’t bring that potato salad.

It just means you recognize your limitations and acquiesce to the Limitless One.

Before I follow that thought, let me stop for an aside and encourage us all not to judge the grief of another. 

Joan Rivers passed this week. Years ago, after her husband committed suicide, she took the only tool she had, which was humor, and set out to help others deal with grief.

I pulled this Rivers quote from the New York Times:

“There are two kinds of friends, and both mean very well,” Ms. Rivers told the audience. “One group doesn’t want you to grieve at all — ‘Come on, come on, it has been a week and a half that you lost Joe, get out — enough!’ The other kind never want to see you be anything but grieving. ‘Your husband is dead only eight years, and you’re wearing a red dress?’ “

Ms. Rivers could be pretty irreverent. A lot of people thought she joked about stuff she shouldn’t. Maybe so. But that one time right there? She got it right.

Petty people project their preconceived notions onto others.

If you have never really experienced this kind of loss, just hang on. You will. Unless you are suddenly taken and the one grieved, you will live to grieve the loss of someone you considered your world.

Back to the Limitless One and the question as to whether “good grief” exists…

I believe it does. Let me share what I see to be the good in grief.

  1. It reveals the depths of the love and the life you shared with the one you lost. We all take one another for granted from time to time. As we hurry through life, anxious to get to that next stage, that next experience, we take for granted the presence of those on the journey with us. We shouldn’t. But we do. Then, in our grief, we understand they were so much more to us than we understood.
  2. It provides an essential release. We are emotional beings, built to feel and express our feelings. Grief is a release valve that keeps us from exploding.
  3. It gives us an opportunity to revisit the good times. To smell the flowers we missed. To relive moments that are so much more momentous now. To laugh at their silly quirks and to, at long last, listen to their wisdom.
  4. It clears the way for hope. How wonderfully David captured the essence of this point in Psalm 30:5 – For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning. Is there suffering and pain, even for the child of God? Absolutely! But the pain is temporary. The joy of the Lord is forever.
  5. It drives us to the breast of the One who is there when the casket is closed and lowered, the mourners have dispersed to their own lives and loves, and we are left alone in our grief. Alone? No! Never. He promised “never to leave us alone.”

My favorite New Testament name for the Holy Spirit is Comforter.

Comforter!

While I stand beside my friend, awkwardly searching for the right words, there in the quietness of her being, speaking to her spirit, is the Comforter. He doesn’t need to search for words that won’t sound hollow and rhetorical. He is the hole-in-the-soul filler. He has the balm of Gilead. He turns sorrow to joy, tears to laughter, hurt to hope, loss to life.

 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.  2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Good grief?!

Yes! There it is.

 

Posted in Christian Living, Devotional, Faith, Family, Hardship, Love, marriage, Relationships | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The greatest love poem ever written, or How to say “I love you” so they won’t forget

the girlsElizabeth Barrett Browning wrote one of the most beautiful, transcendent, enduring love poems in all of human history:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
 

But when I think of the best, most effective, most endearing love poem I ever heard, I think of Donya holding one of our girls (any one, take your pick) in her arms, back when the girl was carrying size. I think of her hand hovering over the little cutie, fingers flexing in and out like spider legs. I think of the wide eyes of our little girl, watching the fingers. I think of breath held in anticipation. I think of Donya’s quoting a rather shortened version of love’s sentiments, not as eloquent perhaps as Barrett’s, but unforgettable nonetheless.

“I love you little
I love you big
I love you like a little pig”

donya and hollyThen, quick as a flash, as she said the last line in a more shrill tone, her hand would dart to the child’s tummy or under the chin and tickle, tickle, tickle and torment. It was met by gleeful squeals and laughter…and you can bet that child would never live a day that she had to doubt whether she was loved.

As I write this, Donya is away with Holly, Lacey, Donya’s sister Felicia and her two girls, and Donya’s mom. They are in Austin, where Holly is trying on her wedding dress. I just got word that it was a perfect fit and there was much thanksgiving and joy.

Perhaps that dress fitting thing would mean more to you if you had been there through the long, hard nights in her teen and young adult life when she doubted she would find her soul’s mate. Perhaps you had to see her mom fight back her own tears while she brushed away her daughter’s. Perhaps it would mean more if you were a shade over 4′ tall yourself and had a birth defect that made finding things that fit and flattered a difficult task at the least.

Holly has found the man she loves. He found her. And he loves her entirely. I am convinced.

But she was always loved. Every second of her life.

Lacey knows that love full well, too. Through some dark struggles transitioning from youth to adulthood, times that ended with what could have been a fatal car accident, she was loved. She will tell you in no uncertain terms that her best friend, her hero, her Mom loved her through it, would not let her go, would not yield her to the forces that tried so hard to steal her away.

Ashley, my oldest, found herself replaced by another. Her husband decided he wanted her friend and didn’t want her anymore. I won’t dwell on what I think that makes him. I will tell you that she endured and emerged stronger, brighter, better than ever.

my girls2I will tell you she found that her mother’s love would not let her hit the unforgiving pavement where broken dreams become irreparably shattered lives. Instead, she found comfort, consolation, shelter, hope…love. She found it right where she first discovered it.

That’s why Donya’s quirky recitations of “I love You Little” is the greatest citation of a love poem I ever heard.

It was meant by the one who said it. And through all the intervening years, that has mattered most to the ones who heard it.

Posted in Family, Hardship, Life Experience, Love, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Virtual Reality: the stimulation of simulation

virtual tombstoneWhy am I just now realizing that “stimulate” and “simulate” are only separated by one lousy “t”?

While I am basking in the wonder of my discovery, let me ask another nagging question: Why do we find simulating to be so stimulating? (Think Fantasy Football, xBox/PlayStation games, SIMS and other virtual reality “games” or worlds, etc.) Is it because we have so many conveniences and live in such a technological cocoon that the only way we can experience life is virtually?

Wait a minute. Before we haul off and accept a phrase into our vocabulary and then make it a staple in modern communication, should we not vet the thing? Isn’t “virtual reality” oxymoronic? Reality means something is REAL. Virtual means “very close to being something without actually being it.” (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

So, if a thing is virtual, it lacks substance. It is not real. Or, it is not really what it purports to be.

I like xBox as much as the next guy. I especially like the sports games. I can be an NFL owner, general manager, coach, or player. I can do the same with hockey, basketball, baseball, soccer…

Pretty cool.

I have virtually pulled off 360 slam dunks, thrown 95-yard touchdowns, and smashed grand slams in the World Series. I virtually scored the winning goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs just the other day, in fact.

Virtually.

Ever climb into one of those jet simulators? Feels pretty doggone real.

Nothing wrong with being stimulated by a little simulation. That is why they invented theme parks. You can feel the rush of flying around hairpin curves or being dropped from 200 feet in the air without (too much) risk. Virtual reality is why we love television, movies, and books.

A little virtual reality is stimulating.

Just don’t let yourself get swallowed by it to the point that you fail to actually live. Don’t forget to get those real experiences in real time with real people. Don’t be afraid to take real risks that may bring failure as well as fortune.

You may have virtually seen and done it all.

But, really. What have you done?

OK. I am virtually done ranting.

No, really. I am.

Posted in (Gene)ric Ramblings, (Gene)tic Rantings, Blog, Greybeard Chronicles, Internet, Life Experience, Social Media | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

After the Storm

04_rider_on_the_storm

Mumford and Sons is one of my favorite bands. Tonight, I was listening to”After the Storm” for the umpteenth time and for the first time, I really listened. I was struck by these lyrics in particular:

And I won’t die alone and be left there
Well, I guess I’ll just go home, oh God knows where
Because death is just so full and man so small
Well, I’m scared of what’s behind and what’s before

Life is so full of storms and it is lived under the shadow of The Storm we most dread. Death. Its ugly shadow hangs over our fragile lives from the day we are born.

The fear of death is the fear of the unknown. The fear of death is the acknowledgement of our frailty.

You may ask, “What is this Jesus thing all about? What does He offer me that I don’t already have? What can he give me that I need?”

It could take several books to scratch the surface of the answer to that question. I want to offer a three-fold answer: Faith, Hope, and Love.

Faith is believing in a design, and in the Designer. Faith is believing in life and the Giver of life. Faith is not the opposite of reason. Faith is the reason reason matters. Faith is reasonable; faith is greater than reason; and each of us ultimately finds some place to place our faith.

There is no safe haven for faith but Jesus Christ.

Hope. What can I say about hope? Tomorrow will mark the twenty-third Father’s Day since my Dad passed. I have not seen his face or heard his voice in 23 years. I still know his voice as well as I ever did and can see his face as clearly as ever. But to me, for now, he is gone.

He is gone. He is not dead. The day he died was a graduation to a higher plane, a nobler life, a fuller existence. I will see him again.

Love. What is life without it? And where has love been more perfectly demonstrated than in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Where did we ever see love more perfectly demonstrated than in His words, His deeds, His life.

Death loses its horrid grip on the soul because of Jesus Christ and His perfect love for us.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. 1 John 4:18

This is real love–not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 1 John 4:10

Man is small, yes. But death is not so full.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 1 Corinthians 15:55

After the storm, there is peace for those who know the Prince of Peace.

And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears
And love will not break your heart but dismiss your fears
Get over your hill and see what you find there
With grace in your heart and flowers was in your hair


Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:27

Happy Father’s Day!

Peace to you and yours.

Posted in Blog, Faith, Family, Gospel, Hardship, Jesus Christ, Love | Leave a comment