Thursday, April 17, 2014

Holy Week Lament: Nancy Gilmore Hill (I am thirsty)

In this season that I do not have time to write, this is the idea God gave me:  Ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life. This Holy Week I'm sharing again the beautiful mourning stories six of my friends generously shared with us last year.  


An introduction to Holy Week Lament:

Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ.  The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant will serve as our framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

On a few holy occasions I've watched firsthand the deathbed ministrations of crushed ice for the parched suffering.  Priest-like, caretakers spoon feed the dying, hoping this trickle of melting wetness tastes like love.  In today's mourning story, we remember the request of the human Christ -- the Creator of the seas hoping for a drop of comfort on his dried-out tongue.  Only a day before -- the day we recognize now as Maundy Thursday -- He'd lavished liquid love over the lowest, achingest parts of His friends.  Squatted on the floor with towel and bowl He showed them (and us) a new way to be human. The next day He died, parched and dirty, with no comfort for His lament:  I am thirsty.

The story my mom tells today echoes this ordinary care for extraordinary need, made possible for us by the common grace of a thirsty God.


The year was 1957 and the grass was just starting to grow over my father’s grave. With the stop of my father’s heartbeat, my mother had been thrust violently into the role of breadwinner, and during that summer of my tenth
year, she sat at a desk miles away from home working on a teaching degree.


For those six weeks, my two teenaged sisters were left to care for my younger sister and me. In their bobby socks and pony tails, they spent their summer feeding us from cupboards that were too often bare, hanging our clothes on
the line to dry, and keeping us safe at night.

In the afternoon of the day of my memory, I was taken to the doctor’s office 
with a dangerously infected toenail. Dr. Barrall bent his head, with its blazing red hair, over my foot, injected a shot of Novocain into my big toe, and
proceeded to rip off the nail. My screams shot down the hallway and filled the waiting room.

That evening I lay alone in my rumpled bed. There were no pictures on the 
walls of my bedroom; there were no curtains at the window to sway in the breeze. This was the house we had escaped to after our house on Main Street
had been taken away from us, after my father had sat down in the living room chair and died.

With my leg stretched out in front of me, I watched the stain of red seeping 
through the fat wad of gauze around my toe. The aching pain moved up my leg, and I sobbed. I had no mother; I had no father. I felt so very alone, in a house on the edge of town, with no pictures on the walls and no curtains at the window.

My sisters’ friend Flossie had stopped by the house, and the three girls were 
whispering nervously in another room. They should have been giggling together, like teenagers do on hot July evenings, but instead they were responsible for a wailing, inconsolable child.

Quietly, Flossie stepped into my room carrying a pan of cool water and a 
wash cloth. She sat down on the edge of my bed and placed the pan on the nightstand. As she reached into the pan to saturate the cloth, she started cooing soft and soothing words.

I can still see her hands—dipping the cloth in the pan, wringing out the water, 
wiping my face, my damp forehead, my swollen eyes. Her hands—dipping the cloth in the water, wringing it out, wiping my face, my forehead, my eyes. Making soft, soothing sounds.

My sobs stopped, my body relaxed, and now it was just the murmuring of 
Flossie’s voice, the swishing of the water, the cool cloth to my face.

A gentle grace-filled quiet entered the room—and I slept.




Nancy's dad and two older sisters on a family vacation
 a couple of years before he died

Epilogue:  When I first wrote this story, my daughter Kaley emailed this comment:  "I did my share of crying as well--it's a beautiful, painful story. What struck me is that her actions affirmed your pain--which is what you needed at that time more than anything."

And over 50 years later I can still see Flossie's hand dipping into a bowl of cool water...

-------------------------------------------------------------------


soothing and story telling
(yes, that's me, age  3?)

 My mother, Nancy Gilmore Hill, says that the kind deed of a teenager left a life-long impact on he. All six of her children and sixteen of her grandchildren want to thank Flossie for showing our mother and grandmother the beautiful, healing powers of a cool cloth on a troubled forehead. 

When my mom's not soothing suffering faces of her family and friends, she is telling stories to her English-as-a-second language students and anyone else who wants to listen.  

Would you like to listen?  
Click play to hear my mom read today's story:





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What mourning stories have formed your life 

and your faith in the mercy-giving Jesus?

Tell us about it in the comments below.

If you've written your own post, share the link.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Holy Week Lament: Brian Murphy (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)

In this season that I do not have time to write, this is the idea God gave me:  Ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life. This Holy Week I'm sharing again the beautiful mourning stories six of my friends generously shared with us last year.  


An introduction to Holy Week Lament:

Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ.  The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant will serve as our framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in small part -- the mourning stories of the dear ones who will share here for seven days.  Their lives walk the path between celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, death of loved ones, death of dearly-held dreams.  Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too.  

For twenty-three years I've been lucky enough to live with the man sharing his story with us today.  For the past eight of those years, we've had the privilege of praying with small groups of men and women seeking healing and reconciliation in their broken relationships.  I've heard Brian tell the words he tells today with each new group.  I asked him, if he might be ready to put them in print?

I was not in the room when he pointed his question at God, but I've watched him listen to the merciful answer every day since: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

Brian in 1979, two years after Pete's Dragon

Our fathers name us. Make no mistake; mothers can try. But one way or the other our fathers are the responsible party for naming their children.

My father left our family when I was six months old. I cannot recall too much about our relationship when I was young; he was an absent father in every sense of the word. For many years I could not even remember times when my dad and I spent any time together. These memories were blocked by anger, sin and sadness.

It was not until I was 29 years old that I could even talk about the pain and loneliness that I had lived with my whole life.

Through much processing and praying with faithful friends, family and pastors I came to two realizations. One, I had been carrying the weight of false names – “no good”, “unlovely” and “undeserving”. Two, although I really hated and blamed my father for his abandonment and rejection, I was not too pleased with God either.

Actually, I was furious with God. I would have told Him, but I was too afraid to say how I felt out loud. Why would a God who called Himself good leave a little boy all by himself?  When a friend finally gave me permission to say it out loud,  I fell on the ground under the weight of my sadness. Through tears and clenched teeth I yelled, “Why God, why did you leave me? Where were you?”

Good news. My Heavenly Father answered. I was able to see God’s leading through my childhood and formative teen and college years as He provided good men to call out of me my true name – passionate teacher, emotional pastor, hard worker, wounded healer, good husband, kind father and beloved son.

More good news. As I began the long journey of forgiving my dad, I was able to see the good things that he had passed along to me.

One repressed memory about my dad’s kindness came back to me through the clean lens of forgiving him. My dad called the house one evening and made plans to take my brothers and sisters to see a movie. I was too young to go. I was heartbroken. I cried. Not the kind of private dignified crying that we adults would like to show when processing wounds but the sobbing, wailing and shaking that we as children feel with fresh rejection and abandonment.

To my dad’s credit he recognized what was going on and got me on the phone. He very kindly explained that I was too young to attend the movie with the older kids but that he would pick me up the next day and take me to a movie –Pete’s Dragon.

With the whole family holding their breath and waiting with me by the front door, I sat expecting the day of my life. To everyone’s relief, dad showed up. We saw the movie; we ate popcorn; we laughed. I would have floated home after the movie, but the day wasn't over. Dad took me to a little bar that he frequented near the theater.

Dad and I entered the bar in grand, theater-entrance style, and he announced, “Hey, everyone, this is my son, Brian.” The whole bar erupted in welcome of my dad and me. The TV channel was changed to something more kid appropriate, the swearing stopped, the cigarettes were extinguished, the pretzels were presented and the soda flowed. I sat on a stool next to my dad and listened to his stories. I felt accepted, loved. I felt like his son.

I would like to tell you that my dad and I had a great relationship from that point on. He was still mostly absent. I would like to tell you that everything is okay between my dad and me. I still process anger and unforgiveness from time to time. I would like to tell you that I always live out of the strong place of my true name. Occasionally I still choose the false name.

James Thomas Murphy II, my dad, passed away about six years ago. I remember that day too. I remember being pissed off that he was going to ruin my plans for a long weekend. I remember going to the hospital. I remember being heartbroken. I cried. Not the kind of private dignified crying that we adults would like to show when processing grief but the sobbing, wailing and shaking that we as children feel when we lose our dads.

While waiting in the receiving line at my dad’s funeral, I received one of the greatest encouragements of my life. My mother-in-law came to me, held my face in her hands as loving mothers do, looked me right in the eye and said, “You are the best thing that your dad ever did. He gave the rest of us a gift, Brian.”

Because of forgiveness, I was able to receive her words of naming. I grieved, and honored my dad. I can recall all of the good things about him -- a great sense of humor, an ability to light up a room, the grace to remember everyone’s name. I was able to see where these qualities were passed to me and where I need to aspire to be more like him.

I am able to tell the story about a little boy and his dad spending one glorious day together.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Most readers here should already feel like they know the good man who is my husband, Brian. But maybe you don't know he's the youngest of five amazing siblings: JoAnn, Jim, David and Kevin. I tagged-along with this Murphy crew almost twenty-three years ago when they let me share their name. I've never been much prouder to be in their family then the day I watched them stand around their father's hospital bed, caring for his needs as he died. They honored him well and I have no doubt all those years, he was proud of them. (To process my own grief, I wrote about that day here: Grief.)


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What mourning stories have formed your life 

and your faith in the mercy-giving Jesus?

Tell us about it in the comments below.

If you've written your own post, share the link.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Holy Week Lament: Haley Ballast (Woman, behold, your son!)

In this season that I do not have time to write, this is the idea God gave me:  Ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life.  This Holy Week I'm sharing again the beautiful mourning stories six of my friends generously shared with us last year.  


An introduction to Holy Week Lament:

Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ.  The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant will serve as our framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in small part -- the mourning stories of the dear ones who will share here for seven days.  Their lives walk the path between celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, death of loved ones, death of dearly-held dreams.  Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too.  

I'm grateful to introduce you to a friend whom I've never met in real life, and still we've managed to journey together through  motherhood and ministry for at least three or four years now.  Actually, it was Haley Ballast's lament story that first got me thinking about framing this series around the Seven Last Words of Christ.  Her recognition of the grief in motherhood -- and not only the daily sort of dying to self, but the dying to experience that comes with mothering by adoption -- has given me a richer understanding of Jesus' dying words to his friend John and his mother Mary:  Behold your son.  Behold your mother.


meeting Zeke for the first time

I was not the first woman to mother my son. Not the first to kiss him goodnight, or comfort him when he cried, or carry him on a hip. I didn't see his first steps, hear his first word, or celebrate his first birthday. By the time I met Zeke, he could kick a soccer ball, drink from a cup, and throw a right wicked tantrum. I had missed a lot.

None of this came as a surprise to me, of course. These small losses are par for the parenting course in international adoption, and they pale in comparison to the much heavier losses sustained by my sweet little boy before he reached his second birthday.

Insignificant as they may be against the backdrop of my son's experiences, these missed milestones are part of my story. They have woven a thread a grief into the fabric of my mothering, one that shows itself at turns, often with the power to unravel me at the seams.

When my daughter was born in January, I held her close and it was different this time. My first two newborns were every bit as precious, but my heart was as yet unseasoned and I didn't know what I didn't know. Waves of overwhelming love for this tiny pink person washed over me and I cried: I missed this. These days of warm weight on your chest and the smell of breastfed baby, of tucked-up legs and fuzzy cheeks, they sink down deep into mother hearts and become the strength we need in the whiny witching hours before Daddy gets home, the pity-parties because everyone else's mom lets them watch that show, and (I can only assume) the nights of missed curfews and eye-rolls and dented fenders.


What happens when you tap into that tank and its empty? What happens when you find yourself squaring off with an angry toddler trying to cash a massive emotional check from an account with far too few deposits in its balance history? These moments have been peppered throughout Zeke's time in our family, and they have been moments of deep grief for me as a parent. Grief for all that my son lost before he came to us. Grief that my gut reactions to his angry behavior are often selfish and lacking compassion. Grief, and even shame, that I should have to work so hard on something that I feel should come naturally (namely, motherly love and affection). And grief that even after two years in our family, my son is still waiting for the other shoe to drop, still keeping a lookout for the next upheaval, still guarding his heart.

Sometimes we take turns grieving, him falling to bits over the wrong kind of breakfast cereal, me crying through our bedtime prayers. Often though, we are in the trenches together. He won't hug me when I pick him up at preschool and I am not gentle when I put on his jacket. If he is testing me, I'm failing, and we both cry on the way home. It's not because he hurt my feelings, though that does sting for a moment. It's because he has to be so smart in all the saddest ways -- a baby learning that people leave, that everything can change at any minute. Learning how not to need anyone, how to keep a distance, how to prove we've all failed him, even if it's only in the small things, like jackets after preschool.

By faith I believe that these hard realities are the fertile fields where God is at work, that these bitter truths will somehow bear sweet fruit in the end. But we are not at the end: we are in the thick of it. What do we do in the thick of it? We grieve, and we let our grief become lament. In grief we can be alone, but in lament we are never alone, because lament places our particular pain within God's greater story. So here we are, my son and I. We get home, and I say a prayer through shuddery breaths, remember Jesus leaving the ninety-nine to go after the one. I get us both a tissue, letting Zeke wipe my eyes because he likes to have a job. We have lost, but we are loved. We are together, and when it is hard to be together because of all we have lost, we lament, and we are not alone.





--------------------------------------------------------------



Haley lives with her husband Jon 
and their four children 
(3 boys ages 7, 5, and 3 and a one-year-old daughter) 
in the Pacific Northwest. 
She blogged here about the adoption process 
and Zeke's first year home, 
and now writes bits of poetry on her phone 
while nursing and breaking up fights 
over Star Wars figurines.









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What mourning stories have formed your life
 and your faith in the mercy-giving Jesus?
Tell us about it in the comments below.
If you've written your own post, share the link.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week Lament: Shannon Coelho (Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.)

In this season that I do not have time to write, this is the idea God gave me:  Ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life.  This Holy Week I'm sharing again the beautiful mourning stories six of my friends generously shared with us last year.  


An introduction to Holy Week Lament:


Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ.  The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant will serve as our framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in small part -- the mourning stories of the dear ones who will share here for seven days.  Their lives walk the path between celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, death of loved ones, death of dearly-held dreams.  Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too.  

I chose today's story-in-a-poem from an entry my friend Shannon Coelho submitted to a previous year's Lentent devotional at Christ Church. She shares not only a story of deep relational suffering but also a fraying strand of hope.  The same suffering-bourne grace offered to the dying, believing thief is strong enough to rescue us all.



By a Thread

Thirty years this June.
Seventeen of those spent spiraling.
The winds of blame, betrayal and plain adolescence
So powerful,
They spun him wide from his family berth -
Alone into,
Adrift in,
A sea of lonely experiments
With loves, highs, false prophecies and lesser gods -
A time of closed doors, open windows, muttered curses, mysterious rituals.

An eyeless storm promises no passing.
Instead,
Twisting more tightly as each year passes,
More wreckage gathers.
A once wonder-full mind,
Now visited by voices
Speaking violence -
Mere threats turn to jagged wounds.
“I cut myself real bad.”
“Don’t tell Dad and Mom.”

There are 
Days without bread, 
Days without home. 
Countless days when prayers, raised, fall - 
Drip, drip, 
Now a deluge in our open hands.

There have been 
Claims of healing. 
Oaths sworn 
And then choked - 
By empty apologies, 
Admissions without repentance, 
A savoring of sin’s practice, 
A comfort in its arms 
And a course set - 
Far from you.

You, Christ, 
Commanded the storm to still.

Can’t you set this right? 
I fear late night calls.

Can’t you set this right? 
I miss him every day.

Can’t you set this right?
My prayers are bound by doubt.

Still we hang. 
All of us - 
By a thread.


-----------------------------------------------------------------

Shannon Coelho -- born and raised
 in the Yukon Territory of Canada -- 
has worked in the tv/film industry in Canada and
 teaching English in schools in Hiroshima. 
Now she makes Austin her home with
 her husband Peter, daughter Lucy and son Emmett.  
When she has a few minutes between
 caring for her babies and getting 
to know her new community in Texas,
 she blogs at Without Caring Twopence.




-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

What mourning stories have formed your life
 and your faith in the mercy-giving Jesus?
Tell us about it in the comments below.
If you've written your own post, share the link.

 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Holy Week Lament: Kaley Ehret (Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.)

In this season that I do not have time to write, this is the idea God gave me:  Ponder and notice again the words I've already written once, keep praying the beads of memory to discover this sacramental life.  This Holy Week I'm sharing again the beautiful mourning stories six of my friends generously shared with us last year.  


An introduction to Holy Week Lament:


Jesus gave us a litany of last words as a Sufferer; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ.  The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant will serve as our framework for the stories of lament we share here this Holy Week.

I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in small part -- the mourning stories of the dear ones who will share here for seven days.  Their lives walk the path between celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, death of loved ones, death of dearly-held dreams.  Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too.  

Relatives of shooting victims pray outside the American Civic Association
 on Sunday, April 5, 2009, in Binghamton.
photo credit

I chose today's contribution in memory of five Palm Sundays ago when our small hometown turned in all our palm-waving for wailing.  Two days earlier -- in only three minutes time -- a gunman entered Binghamton's immigration center and killed 13 people and then himself.  He killed and wounded fellow immigrants, an English-as-a-second-language teacher, a receptionist.  

Today my mom and sister Alicia teach in that same building, some of the same students evacuated from closet and basement refuges four years ago.  They know the man who covered his wife's body with his own, hoping to save her, and losing her anyway.


visiting my mom's ESL class before we moved from Binghamton to Austin
August 2011

And five years ago another sister wrote words of response to the grief crushing all of us.

I'm sharing today these words from my beautiful sister Kaley Ehret (originally posted, April 9, 2009).

This past summer, I sat in an airplane across the aisle from a woman who was clearly distraught. After spending several minutes wrestling over whether I should speak with her, I finally did. I leaned over the aisle and whispered that I didn't mean to pry, but did she need to talk? 
She smiled grimly through her tears and shared with me that her mother was dying and that she was worried that she wasn't going to get there in time to say good-bye.  
As she opened up to me about her story, the tears began to flow...both hers and mine. As she wept, I wept. Her pain was raw and, in that moment, what I had to offer in response was my grief. The affirmation that what she felt was real and valid, and she was not aloneI wanted to do more, but I had nothing more to give. 
Last night, I attended the prayer vigil in remembrance of the 14 victims of this weekend's massacre. I saw your faces--the faces of the families of the victims. I marveled at the number of different hues of skin, all telling the story of your countries of origin: Haiti, China, Pakistan, Brazil, the Philippines, Vietnam, United States, and Iraq. 
I watched you as you passed by and wished I had something to offer. Although it was only a glimpse, I had the sense that you have felt this kind of pain before. That this kind of horror was much more familiar to many of you than it should be. 
But then, this time you are far from home. I tried to imagine how it must feel to experience such deep loss in a place that is not home. I wondered if you are longing for home now.
And I wept. All I had to offer in that moment was my grief. The affirmation that what you feel is real and valid. And that you are not alone. 
In the middle of the onslaught on Friday, there was a low, long rumble of thunder. Strange for this time of year. But for me, it was a reminder that there is a God who grieves with you as well. He has a Son who has experienced deep agony in a place that is not His home. He is fully acquainted with grief. He affirms that what you feel is real and valid. He has felt it too. 
And although I do not know you, I grieve with you. It is all that I have to offer in this moment. In this place that is not home, may you know that you are not alone. 
Palm Sunday candlelight vigil for the Binghamton shooting vicitms, April 2009
photo credit


A brief epilogue: 


As I think again about the event, think about Kaley's grieving words, imagine the unimaginable suffering of these victims (and so many more like them ) I weep again at the tragedy.  I browse back through the archived photographs and gulp down hostility when I see the photo of the shooter again.  What mania drives a human to destroy another human?

What suffering forces suffering on another?  

Jesus, a suffering human, described the humans killing him with the merciful verdict:  they do not know what they are doing.  He pressed no charges, only asked His Father -- the Judge of all humans -- to forgive them.

When I think of the innocent sufferings four Palm Sunday weekends ago in Binghamton, I think of justice rather than mercy.

But it is mercy that saves us all.



In mourning with the mourners -- both the grieving woman on the airplane and the victims of a man-made tragedy -- Kaley extended mercy, offered salvation.

Father, forgive us for we do not know what we do (and what we leave undone). Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us all.

Hosanna.  Save us now.





Kaley Ehret is my sister 
and my friend.  
She's married to Wes,
 a pastor in the 
Philly suburb of Telford, 
and they have 3 amazing,
 adorable sons. 




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What mourning stories have formed your life
 and your faith in the mercy-giving Jesus?
Tell us about it in the comments below.
If you've written your own post, share the link.






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