Why ‘God will give you more than you can handle’ changed my life: And how it fixed Christmastime

It’s been nearly a year since I wrote God will give you more than you can handle.

A whole year.

I can hardly believe it. It still surfaces as one of my most-read blogs of all time and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It’s because out of everything we could ever go through as human beings, that is the one thing that connects us all. The struggle–and the triumph over it.

I read it again this morning, throwing myself back to the time when the Christmas lights were strung, the tree decorated, the little manger on the dresser paused in time with Mary’s eyes on the baby Savior’s face. Nothing had changed from just an hour before and I’m certain that even our cat was undisturbed from his sleep. Nothing had changed except our hearts. Because my dad, laying within the glow of Christmas lights, had breathed his last. This morning as I read it again it was so hard to wrap my mind around how time had continued to propel us forward, not even taking a moment to help us stand on our own. The night turned into day and the snow came and went and the needles on the tree began to dry and fall in a heap on the carpet. We were stuck in time, unable to breathe without pain, but time didn’t care.

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It brought me to here. Another Christmas. Another tree. And time to sit and reflect on that Christmas that changed everything.

I’ve been astonished–more so this year than any other year–how broken Christmas is for so many. And no, I’m not saying that because I lost my Dad at Christmastime.

This year more than ever I’ve noticed how superficial the holiday has become to so many. It’s the most stressful time of year for holiday shoppers who scurry around with holiday lists and rack up credit card debt. People compete to have the prettiest lights on the block and stores fight to have the best sales. The gifts, the traveling, the way we get so entangled in things.

And somehow we forget the things that were illuminated to me just one Christmas ago.

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The gift of breathing. The amazing, indescribable gift of having family by your side, even next to an empty tree. The wonderful warmth of hot chocolate and candles and twinkle lights as you simply share the company of a friend. The carols that remind us of the sleeping baby who came to save us all. The wonderment of a child waiting anxiously for Santa to come.

None of these experiences are things. And we know it. Deep inside, we all know it. But we forget over the years and become calloused to what is expected and to the status quo.

Time didn’t pause at the stable over 2,000 years ago. It kept going, and the child grew and he ministered and suffered and died and made his way in and out of our hearts through the years. We turned away from the cross and faced in all the other directions that promised fulfillment and peace and just left voids. And we continue to struggle to face the right way. Through the generations we’ve struggled to remember, we’ve struggled to fill the voids with material things and importance, and all along we’ve been breaking Christmas apart. We’ve been breaking our lives apart.

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I still believe that God will give you more than you can handle. This year–starting at last Christmas time–has been the hardest year of my life. Even now, as I write these words, I find tears streaming down my face. It’s not that it’s gotten easier, because it hasn’t. But I’ve learned something that takes me through.

God will empower you to fight the impossible.

God will send something to make you smile when all you want to do is melt into tears.

God will send friends–so many friends–who paint your life with sunshine and share the shadows.

God will remind you of the laughter and not just the pain within your memories.

God will fight for you to be okay and carry you when you’re weak.

God is for you.

This Christmas I choose to step away from the brokenness and the rubble of forgetfulness. I choose to remember the way my Dad’s face lit up when I hung the lights near his bed and the way he fought to stay with us. I choose to remember the way he didn’t grab for things when he got ready to step into Heaven–but he grabbed for our hands. Christmas is our reminder of the things that keep our feet on solid ground and the One who handles what we simply cannot. Christmas is our time to remember the way the Savior came to a broken world full of grief and pain and impossibility all in order to bring life, and relief and hope.

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Because of Him, you make it through the days you otherwise could not. And I believe more than ever, a year later, that we can’t handle everything–not a single day. But He can.

And that’s the reason to celebrate.

Not only Christmas–but every single breath.

Dying naturally is NOT undignified: What we can learn from Brittany Maynard

This is one of those blog posts where I’ve written the first sentence about thirteen different times and I’ve deleted it just as many times. Here goes sentence number fourteen.

I think it’s because deep down inside I dread talking about something that bothers me, even when the rest of the country stands as advocates. I sometimes worry about hurting families or saying something that will be misconstrued as, “Well, that blogger is insensitive.”

Because, in all honesty, this is a sensitive subject. In all honesty, it broke my heart just as much as those who agreed with her decision. Brittany Maynard has been the topic of debate for some time, and just last weekend she decided to go through with her decision to take her own life after she was given the grim diagnosis of a rare form of brain cancer. Death would be slow and painful, doctors said, so she packed up and moved to Oregon and decided to use the “Death with Dignity” law.

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Her story is a painful one. And it brings me back to just last year. Around this time last year my Dad had just begun hospice. His diagnosis was just as grim as Brittany’s. I will never EVER forget the sound of his voice. The way it had changed. The coolness of his veiny hands and the sunken dips of his eyes. I won’t forget the doctors telling us it would be slow and painful. And I won’t forget dad nodding as they said it, telling us with confidence that’d it all be ok.

Towards the end, just like Brittany feared with her own death, my Dad lost touch of the world. The things we saw and the way we’d muffle our tears as we assured him we were close was anything BUT the character of my Dad. But even then–my Dad was never undignified.

And that’s what brings me to the point of why I’m writing. “Death with Dignity” implies that dying by the hand of cancer or another fatal disease lacks honor. It implies that people like my dad–who get to the point where clothes bother them and memories of fishing when they were twelve become “reality” and their children do what they can to clean up the mess in the bed sheets–suddenly rid themselves of the dignity they once had. And that infuriates me. Death is not undignified. And neither is suffering.

hospital bed with dad

I sometimes lay awake at night thinking of the fear that my Dad must have had during those moments when we were asleep around his bed but he just watched the hands of a dying clock. I can’t imagine the finality he must’ve felt. The terror of what it might feel like when his heart decides to stop. And with Brittany, I can’t imagine it either. It’s a subject that I’ll never grasp unless it’s my turn.

But even still. There are thousands–millions–of people who live out each second every day. Millions of people who suffer and still thank God for every day that they wake up and see the faces of their children. There are countless souls who get handed a fate that would make anyone’s heart weak, but they face it with dignity and grace. Not one of them is undignified. Not for a second.

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I feel uncomfortable saying that Brittany chose wrong. Even though my religious background and my discomfort with “suicide worship” makes me want to say that, I sift through the pictures of this beautiful girl and can’t help but swallow my blunt opinion because I realize that it wasn’t an easy decision. And I realize that her family is hurting. Her husband is a widower. Her travel plans are no more. And that is enough to keep me quiet about her particular case and whether she chose right or wrong, regardless of everything.

But within a country that cries out for everything to be on our own terms, I can’t help but stand apart. It’s my body we hear during abortion debates …it’s my own life to take we hear with Death with Dignity…it’s my life to live and my choice who I love we hear with civil rights cases. And despite my opinions on any of these things, I can’t help but notice a common thread. We want to take the reins. We’re tired of life–or God for that matter–dictating what happens to us or what turns in the road will be up ahead. We want to set the terms. We want our dignity.

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And I feel like we’re forgetting where true dignity comes from. Dignity isn’t maintaining a beautiful face and living a life free of pain and free of shame. Dignity is trudging through the muck of life, dirt smeared on your face and sins heaped like piles at your feet, and still carrying on and looking up. Dignity is facing it all head on and deciding it’s still a beautiful life. It’s still worth living. Dignity is having the respect for yourself, and for others, that it takes to carry on despite the fear or the embarrassment or the lack of control.

And looking back, seeing my Dad’s blue eyes shoot up to the corner of the ceiling as he took his final breath, I can say without a doubt that I’ve never seen a man with more dignity.

Life is hard. Cancer sucks. Mourning is—well, there might not be a word to describe it. But we face it every day because that’s what we’re here to do. The Savior never said it’d be easy. In fact, he felt it all for us long before we were here and he bled and cried and begged for relief. We are not exempt.

I pray for Brittany’s family and I have cried over her story. Such a beautiful girl with a trial that would overwhelm anyone. I pray for comfort and love and peace in that home.

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But I also pray for our country–and for our world even–to reevaluate.

In the moments beyond our control we learn about endurance. Love. Bravery in the face of fear. And faith. We learn that death is a moment beyond our choosing, but the eternity afterwards has everything to do with what we choose while we’re here.

That choice is a life well lived.

That choice is dignified.

Why God sent a rainbow: Lessons from the Marysville school shooting

Some people have been wondering why I haven’t written about the shooting yet that occurred right in my backyard at Marysville Pilchuck High School. I’ve wondered that myself.

But something like that–well, it’s safe to say that it froze my hands on the keyboard.

What do you say about something like this?

The place I took swimming lessons for four years, the auditorium I danced in in two recitals, the bleachers I sat in during some away games, the place where handfuls of my friends passed through those halls over the years. Marysville. Right next door. Basically home.

I couldn’t write about it for some time because I didn’t know what needed to be written. The news stations were covering who was shot and where they were at. Twitter feeds and news feeds were doing their fair share of political commentary about guns. Bloggers were having a heyday as usual. And there I was, not knowing exactly what to say.

My fourth grade teacher’s daughter was one of the students who ran and cowered for shelter when the shots rang out in the cafeteria. The day after it happened she said that she saw a rainbow right over the school–this rainbow right here–and even a rainbow over the hospital where some of the victims were sent. Suddenly I knew what needed to be said that hasn’t been quite yet.

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(Both photos credited to KIRO TV, Seattle)

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God is near.

It’s a gutsy thing to write when children are crying and war is across the sea and parents are struggling now to see their kids get on a school bus. It’s a gutsy thing to say in a world that cries out, “What God would allow this?!”

Because, let’s face it. We’ve all thought it. So did I.

Evil exists. Sickness exists. And the news will continue to tell us that it’s just getting worse.

But the rainbow. It reminds us.

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It reminds us that in the midst of tragedy there is something to be found that brings light back into darkness. There are kids who suddenly learn early lessons about hate–and decide to do whatever it takes to show that instead they can love.

It reminds us that in our grief we aren’t alone. And that we won’t let others be alone in theirs.

It reminds us that we’re given a new day to rebuild, even if it’s the smallest of steps every day.

It reminds us we can forgive with time–and become all the better for it.

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(Tweets from hospitalized victim Nate Hatch)

It reminds us of so much–all of us something different I think, according to what we need.

The world isn’t getting better. And it won’t. That was never promised. And as much as people try we can never completely stop kids from killing kids or soldiers losing their limbs in war or villages in foreign countries going without water. We’ll try and we’ll cry for it and we’ll help as much as we can but in the end we’re going to face the brutality of mortality and we’re going to have to find joy and find love anyway.

We’re going to have to keep spotting the rainbows.

Students and community members attend a vigil at the Grove Church after a shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville

My heart hurts alongside those who heard the shots ring out and those who ran home to their children that day. My heart is in the ICU with those who still fight and with the family of the boy who decided there was no  other option. In one of the saddest scriptures of all time we hear the Lord speaking about tragedy such as this and how it even hurts his own heart.

“Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

“And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood” (Moses 7:32–33).

So where do we turn? What do we write about? Where do we go from here?

I fail to have the right words even though I wish I did. I fail to have a perfect outline to follow or some beautiful way of telling people we’ll get through even this. As a writer–that’s frustrating.

BUT when words fail we turn to the little things that remind us that there is still beauty. There is still good. There is still hope.

That’s why He sent the rainbow.

It isn’t a sin to get mad at God

Here I sit in the early morning light and my whole house is still asleep except for me.

There is a decorative pumpkin already on the coffee table and a candle that smells like cinnamon. And every now and then a chill creeps in through the open window and reminds me that it’s that time of year again. Fall. And then winter. And the holidays.

And it makes it hard to write.

I love the holiday season–making ornaments in school out of macaroni and drinking cider at pumpkin patches and eating too much cranberry sauce and decorating the tree to Bing Crosby. But then last fall happened, and no matter what Dad had said, it still changed everything. This time last year Dad was coming home from the hospital. He decided to quit chemotherapy. He decided its ok to go home and die. And I decided that the changing leaves would never look the same.

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And it’s maddening.

So the other night I announced to my husband with teary eyes, “It’s been a year, Matt. And sometimes I am still just SO mad at God.”

It’s not that I have trouble believing in him. I’ve never really had that kind of trouble. And besides, how can you be mad at someone who isn’t there? No, the trouble I had with Him was figuring out why sometimes it feels like He turns his back. Like He’ll take away the best you have, He’ll let you scramble to make ends meet, He’ll watch as you pray for something that simply never comes. He’ll be silent when you demand answers. And like a child at her parent’s closed door, I weep. I stomp my foot. And then, “I hate you!” and storm off. 

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You might wince at reading that. And it’s ok. There are many people who believe you shouldn’t EVER be mad at God, let alone hate Him. And part of me envies those people. Part of me wonders if I’ll ever get to that point where trials don’t make me shake a fist at the sky. And part of me wants to tell those people it’s ok. It’s ok to get mad at God.

So since Fall is making its entrance I’ve been thinking a lot about all of that this week. And it wasn’t until someone asked me a simple question that I’ve come to grips with something. The other day someone at work randomly asked me, “Kayla, you being a literature person, what do you think is one of the greatest love stories ever written?”

So I pondered *because I’m a literature geek* and thought through the hundreds of romances I’ve read so far. I thought about the plot lines so many of them follow–There’s a protagonist and by some event that protagonist falls in love. But the person the protagonist falls for is challenging. Sometimes forbidden or unreachable or unaware. The obstacles arise, including fights or misunderstandings or hurt along the way. But then the end always comes and somehow love wins out. No matter how it wins, it seems to. And the thing that makes it romantic? The protagonist always believed it would.

And it hit me.

I know the greatest love story ever written.

It all began with a protagonist who created light out of darkness and who formed love with his very hands. That protagonist loved so deeply that he let his great loves leave his presence and wander–for years–far away. Some of them decided they didn’t love him anymore. Some hated him. Some simply forgot. And there were others. Others who loved him. Who believed they’d be back with him. Others who had so much faith until the winds picked up and they blamed him for knocking them down. But the protagonist loved. Always loved. He even watched his own son die a horrible death to save the wanderers from a horrible fate. He wept and tore the skies open when his great loves were the hands to kill. Years would go by and he’d watch his great loves make up stories and theologies as to who he was. He sometimes waited to be talked to for a very long time. But he always waited and he always loved. Because out of every love story, He is the protagonist that loved the most. He’s the one who knew the end of the story and understood when those he loved hated him and asked “Why me?” He cried with them and laughed with them and he sat behind a closed door, his hand gently pressed against it, as his own child screamed “I hate you!”, yelling much too loudly to hear anything he had to say.

But He always loved.

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My heart gave out a little when I thought this all over the other day, and I still think about it now as another chill sweeps into the living room and makes my sleeping bunnies rustle in their cages.

God is part of the greatest love story ever written–and so are we. He has a deep compassion for us that we so rarely have for Him. It’s amazing, really.

It’s going to be natural to be the characters that wander. It’s in our description. It’s in the plot.

He’s going to understand when we struggle–because that’s what this world offers–and He’s even going to get it when we blame that struggle on Him. But He loves us through it all and keeps giving us new moments, new days, new opportunities to come back to Him and to find joy.

He understands that when we’re angry at him, we’re caught up in moments where we forget how much He loves us. And how He’s on our team.

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Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “Since the beginning of time, love has been the source of both the highest bliss and the heaviest burdens. At the heart of misery from the days of Adam until today, you will find the love of wrong things. And at the heart of joy, you will find the love of good things. And the greatest of all good things is God.”

The pages turn and I enter in to a new Fall. Some enter in to new lives after a big move or new, overwhelming schedules after a baby. Some are waking up to a new day without limbs or a new week without a job. One by one the pages turn and if we let it, we forget who’s turning the pages. We get angry at who does. And we forget that:

“God does not need us to love Him. But oh, how we need to love God! For what we love determines what we seek. What we seek determines what we think and do. What we think and do determines who we are—and who we will become.”

It isn’t a sin to get mad at God. It isn’t evil to stumble and wonder why. Look at Job. And Jonah. And Jesus himself, who thought for a brief moment that God had turned His back. But we must rise from it. We have to remember.

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It takes faith to remember that as we scream and cry at the closed door there is a Father on the other side, forehead pressed against the door, eyes wet.

And He just waits.

Because only we can open it again.

 

 

When the “wings of eagles” aren’t yours: Dealing with mental and physical illness

I write this while flat on my back on the couch.

The World Cup buzzes in the background and I catch myself just staring at it every now and then, almost too weak to type. I’ve been laid up in bed sick for three (maybe four?) days now and it’s close to the sickest I’ve ever been…aside from getting salmonella that one time. *Not fun, by the way.*

It’s been downright depressing. Being held hostage by your body–being completely vulnerable to a stomach that won’t hold anything down, crippling headaches, and a fever that keeps you huddled under a Mt. Everest of blankets is just enough to make the average person’s heart completely weak.

And I’ve wondered–what about the wings of eagles that the scriptures talk about? Aside from my battle with hypothyroidism I’m relatively healthy with little complaints. This illness in particular is temporary. Within a few days probably I’ll be able to continue a normal routine, picking up work right where I left off, writing that book review I’ve had to hold off, and mingling with family and friends who I’ve been quarantined away from this week.

For me, it’s a temporary state of “disability”. But what about the others? The others who write to me about their struggles with mental illness, their battle with autism, their fights with cancer, or Crohn’s disease, or their lives strapped down to wheelchairs or crutches? What about those who have weekly dialysis treatments or have to watch the world go on past them outside hospital windows?

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It’s been a question that’s been hard to shake. I’ve always heard this scripture repeated:

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.”

But from a young age it was hard to swallow.

At the age of 7 I watched my mom deal with clinical depression–watching as she heaved into paper bags, wrestled demons, contemplated suicide, and spent nights crying out loud for it to stop. Later in life I watched my Dad–a healthy man with a healthy lifestyle–dwindle away little by little every day by cancer. I’ve watched friends drag heavy chains of manic depression or bipolar disease, whispering over the phone that it NEEDS to stop. And I’ve always wondered why these people–people I love–aren’t granted those wings of eagles. Now as I lie here sick in bed, I repeated these questions to myself.

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But the truth of it is clear. None of us, upon coming to earth, were promised to be untouched. On the contrary, actually. We were aware that we were coming to a fallen world with sickness, sadness, brains that could malfunction and chemicals that could go out of whack. We knew we signed up for limbs that could fail us, hearts that would stop beating, and eyes that would grow blurry over the years. We willingly said “Yes, Lord” before coming to a world that promised we would need to “wait” upon our strength and trust and hope in the Almighty before every gaining the strength to get through it and eventually get home.

I’ve begun to unravel–bit by bit–why we would do that. The world often preaches that when you have your health you have everything, but this makes more sense to me: “None of us will escape tragedy and suffering. Each of us will probably react differently. However, if we can recall the Lord’s promise, ‘For I the Lord am with you,’ we will be able to face our problems with dignity and courage. We will find the strength to be of good cheer instead of becoming resentful, critical, or defeated.” That was said by a leader in my church, Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1986.

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It’s comforting to me that although we don’t have a choice what we face physically–or even mentally–in this life, we do have a choice in who we place our trust in and who we choose to help heal us or hold our hand through the often grueling and painful journey. It’s comforting to me that we don’t ever stand comfortless– and that there is always someone there who has taken it all upon himself, hundreds and thousands of years before we ever took a breath.

Your strength will be renewed within the grand scheme of eternity promised to you.

It might be in this life. It might be in the next. But the promise is clear.

We’ll all mount up with wings as eagles–simply because He is our wings.

And for now, that is enough.

Bald Eagle in mid-air flight over Homer Spit Kenai Peninsula Alaska Winter

“Blessed is he that keepeth my commandments, whether in life or in death; and he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven. …For this cause I have sent you—that you might be obedient, and that your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony of the things which are to come.” (D&C 58:2, 6.)

Endings are the saddest part: But they often don’t exist

I bet everyone can agree that there’s always beauty in beginnings.

Driving to the hospital to meet my newborn nephew the other day, getting the keys to that first apartment or the brand new cherry-red car on my 16th birthday. Putting a veil on and carefully tying the back of a brand new wedding dress, accepting that much-prayed-for job offer, the first day on a brand new campus that’d be home to my lifelong memories. Beginnings always carry a sweet smelling perfume of a memory to me. But endings? No. Normally, *unless it’s a boring movie or a canker sore* endings are the stuff that tragedy is made up of.

At least it seems like it.

Recently I got the news that my sister-in-law’s best friend Logann was diagnosed with cancer for a second time. But this time, it’s in its final stages. My sister-in-law had cancer too and died just two years ago. Logann’s sister, Lauren, reached out to me with pictures and memories, and before long I was scrolling through her facebook page, blinking back tears and reading statuses that hint at worsening symptoms. I don’t know Logann much, but I know how it feels to face an ending.

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I carefully clicked through the photos of the young faces of the kids she’ll soon leave behind. The ending for their family is coming, just as it had for Natalie, who didn’t even make it to that last trip to DisneyLand with her kids. Just as it had for my Dad who hadn’t even had the time to acquire wrinkles. Just as it had for countless faces and names from my readers who share pictures and stories throughout my inbox–people who share the general ache of having been through an ending of some sort.

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For some, it’s the ending that comes with seeing a child move across the country with a new husband and a U-Haul. For some, it’s the loss of a career or a divorce that leaves empty drawers, empty halls, and an empty heart. For some, it’s the ending that comes with a severed friendship or a miscarriage that leaves you with empty arms and a few loose ultrasound pictures to prove that a child ever even existed.

Time can seem like a relentless, cruel train that moves fast and uninterrupted. Time stops for no one and quickly reminds us that every day we’re dying or nearing an end of something. Some of us just know when that time will be, others of us have no idea.

It all just ends in an ending, we think.. And the only beauty we can possibly hope for is that there will be a beginning soon after.

But what if we decided to find the beauty before that eventual beginning? Is it possible? Well, today–I learned it is.

Today was General Conference in my church. General Conference is a time when leaders of my church come together to talk about a wide variety of things that they’ve prayed about or felt inspiration to teach. No matter where you are in the world you can listen in by internet or television or broadcasts in meetinghouses. One talk in particular today reached me in a way that made me wonder if Heaven itself wrote that message just for Kayla. But of course not–we all needed to hear it.

The talk was by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf. He spoke about gratitude throughout the pains of life, understanding in all things, and before ending his talk he simply stated,”There seems to be something inside of us that resists endings. Why is this? Because we’re made out of the stuff of eternity. Endings are not our destiny.”

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Endings don’t sit well with us because there’s often no such thing. We feel the need to keep existing–to keep connected with those we love and to always have another sunrise. We often forget, I learned today, that we’re not dying every day. We’re just continuing.

And if we believe in eternity, then that means we believe that nothing–not even death–can be considered an end.

As children of the creator of a universe dotted with galaxies and stars and life still undiscovered that goes on and on and never hits a wall, we also follow the pattern of creation. We don’t end either.

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Sometimes it’s hard to see simply because we don’t comprehend the magnitude of it, just as we can’t wrap our minds around the nonexistent walls of universe that stretch on forever. But every now and then, like those words that hit me today, the spirit will whisper a reminder.

Lauren sent me a note recently tagged along with the photos of her and her sweet sister that states she’s grateful for time that she has left with Logann–the gift that reminds her this isn’t where it ends. It’s simply a pause. She said Logann spends her days talking about eternity with the kids–a concept that is almost impossible to understand now, but something that will be the only comfort someday and the only truth.

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There’s a beauty in knowing that we’re more constant than the sun–that our eternal value is more dependable than the tides. There’s a beauty in being reminded that what we call endings are nothing more than a flicker of pause in a seamless fabric of eternity–the same fabric that makes up an ever-stretching universe. The same fabric made from our Father’s hands.

When we look at it that way–at least for me–it’s not just the beginnings that seem beautiful. It’s the continuing.

Click here to donate to Logann and her sweet family.

He is not here: A reminder during a rescue mission

I had the strangest dream last night.

Now, I have some pretty off the wall dreams at times so for me to say it was the strangest is kind of a big deal for me.

In my dream I joined the search of the hundreds of people right now trudging through debris and mud and toppled cars and fences in the Oso area here in Washington, lifting piles of unrecognizable filth to find the victims of the horrific mudslide. This area is close to where I grew up in Arlington, barely a fifteen minute drive, so I had spent time in this place. I had spent summers along these now flooded riversides and jogs against the backdrop of these now crumbled hills. In my dream I vividly saw the stillness of the pastures and the emptiness of the flattened landscape–a grave now to all of those who walked here or drove or worked nearby when the mountains gave way just nine days ago. Oddly enough, even though in reality it’s not this close, I saw my old backyard in my dream as well–flattened. Overturning branches and muck and fighting through tears, I frantically searched and searched. Then suddenly, I heard someone calmly say to me, “He is not here.”

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I woke up from the dream this morning knowing fully well why that voice in my dream had to tell me that. It was about my Dad. And that voice will soon be whispering it to the hearts of all of those still trudging through the remains of the landslide, clutching shoes and wallets and remnants of children and parents.

On the news last night a firefighter, with his hat drawn off his head and dirt surrounding his eyes, said mournfully, “We know this isn’t a rescue mission anymore–it’s a recovery mission. But in our hearts, for a long time, it’ll be a rescue mission.”

leveled house

Tears raced to my eyes when I heard the man say that–and the reality of what a rescue mission is followed me into last night’s dream. No matter who you’ve lost–or how you’ve lost them–your spirit goes through a period of time where you’re on a rescue mission. Not usually literally. You’re looking for ways to feel them or sense them close by to bring them into your “present”. You’re hunting through memories and retracing their face over and over as to not forget. You’re half-expecting them to come through the door again, only to be devastatingly disappointed when there are moments that you realize they won’t. Of course, they won’t, you’ll cry. And it’ll hurt all the same. You’ll also relive memories of the moment they died or the place they died or the last time you held their hand–and that moment seems to be where they forever lay.

But it’s not.

To minimize the devastating effects of the Oso and Arlington area landslide is not my intent. My heart breaks for the people who lived a stone’s throw away from me–people who lost children and parents and siblings and neighbors and pets. People who now sit and rest against what used to be a rooftop, looking out at a dismal landscape made up of mud and tears. The loss is indescribable.

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But at the same time I can draw a simple parallel to the words of that one firefighter. Maybe you can too. Maybe those words rang true for all of us who have gone through the sting of loss in one way or another.

The moment where you know for a fact your loved one is truly gone doesn’t always occur at the same time that your heart figures it out. And for a while it just remains a rescue mission. For a while you trudge through the debris of the unrecognizable world around you. For a while you’re looking for the dead in all the wrong places.

As for me, I know I have been. I’ve been angry at times for not feeling Dad as much as I’d like–and have been praying for him to be part of my life again in any way I can muster. I’ve been vividly remembering the day he left us, reliving the night painfully, stuck in that pocket of time as if Dad were stuck there too. But just as the angel told Mary as she leaned against a rolled-away stone and peered into any empty grave for the Savior, “He is not here; for he is risen, as he said.” (Matthew 28:6)

empty tomb

I pray for peace for all of those who still search and wander the debris near my hometown. I pray that their rescue mission can come to an end and that they too will remember that their loved ones aren’t there–but in a place that has risen far above shallow graves. I pray for your own rescue mission to end too. I pray that the angels will find us all at empty tombs, reminding us gently of where we should look instead.

The voice reminds me of it when I look for my Dad in painful memories of his last day in hospice. He is not buried or stuck in folds of memory or fenced into the past. He is not laying idle on a hospital bed. He is not sick. That echoed voice of an angel from the scriptures gently reminds me to leave the debris and remember the promise of eternal life.

That gentle voice reminds me to look up.

piano