Tag Archives: grief

i ironed every shirt today

photo

I ironed every shirt I ever actually wear today. I stood in the den ironing and hanging one after another on the pull up bar connected to the door frame.

I’ve noticed my own ironing habit over the last twelve months. It’s often after a long day at the office where people allow me the chance to journey with them through their personal, familial and communal junk as we work to find what good can be uncovered in its midst. While some days it’s an archeological journey worth photo-ops, full of good findings and the perfect blue skies to offer backdrop to their discoveries, many days end after journeying together where we don’t actually find anything.

We may have found better questions, or better ways to let go of bad questions, or better standards by which to gauge ourselves and others, but we end without any picture-perfect discoveries. We end without the pain and the mess being over. We end, after having given it all we know to give and finding that there wasn’t light at the end of the tunnel. Not yet, at least. Not today.

I often come home on those days, pull out the ironing board, and start working on a task that I know will begin and end well in one try. It helps me suspend hope, if just until the sun rises again, that some things get settled, some things end up making sense, and some things work out before the sun goes down.

Today was not a day of counseling, but a culmination of multiple days of reminders that many good people holding out great faith can’t make the pain stop and the heartache end. We can’t hope our way to the phone call giving us the news we were begging for. Today began with the news of loss. The loss of a man whose personality and gestures were in themselves reminders that there is another world buried under this one that creation itself can hardly wait to see break through. The loss of a man who made it clear, even on the day of his murder, that there is something rumbling underneath the cracking present age that speaks of a kingdom of light and a community of icons of God himself.

And we can hardly wait either, you know. We can hardly wait especially on days like today where we know what is good, but we don’t know how to get there and we feel powerless to bring it here. So we iron ourselves into some kind of sanity, so we can see something finished and something in order like all of our button-up shirts hanging on pull-up bars.

But night falls and morning rises, and we realize that as much as we would like to settle ourselves with tasks that we can see from beginning to end, neatly pleated and orderly hung, we also realize that our hearts are only truly alive in the tasks that leave us with great heartbreak, for now. And so, while they are too big to carry, we can’t help but doing our best to pick them up again. And, in the words of the pastor calling us to move toward the kingdom, it’s in picking up the things that are too heavy to carry that we realize we are actually on our way home.

djordan
Pine Tree

RELATED POSTS
when it finally has no end
my hands are tied
the ground remains
the long defeat
when there’s nothing else to do
the sum of our hoping

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

when it finally has no end

nicene creed

I was up late, and woke up late, and made it into the church service about ten minutes late. My voice was much deeper than normal, and was still deep when we made it to the words of the Nicene Creed. I think it was the unfamiliar cantor of my voice that made me hear what I said today as if it was the first time I had ever heard it.

“…and his kingdom will have no end.”

+++

There are often moments where I see it. It’s clearly present in ways that don’t make any sense, so I lean back, squint my eyes so that tears don’t fall out, and try to breathe it in. There are moments where I see what Nora Gallagher references as “thin space,” moments where the space we are in is touching the space we will be in when the kingdom comes in all of its fullness.

Sometimes, these moments of heaven meeting earth are in
the monotony of daily chores
the normalcy of singing with the windows down
the clinking of glasses and forks and plates at dinner with friends
the deep breaths after long days of good work.

Sometimes, these moments of heaven meeting earth are in
the deep grief of watching one we’ve lived loving be lowered into ground
the deep heartbreak of waiting to hear the horrible news we’re hoping isn’t true
the deep sadness of holding our hair in our hands because we know we are powerless and things are out of control.

Sometimes, these moments of heaven meeting earth are in
the brilliance of art, laughter, hard work
the sharp edges of a brilliant sonnet, sunset, silhouette
the joy of eyes meeting, hands shaking, understanding.

But every time, for now, these moments of heaven meeting earth
have ends. Endings. They are over after they begin.

They have an end.

And we are then reminded that
the things that feel true, honest, just, lovely, pure
don’t last, for now.

+++

So we stand together, deep voices on early Sunday mornings, and say the words that have come from the mouths of men and women for hundreds and hundreds of years. In the echo of their voices and the startling depth of our own early-morning voice, we hold out hope that the day is coming when it has no end. The kingdom made up of thin space, where heaven and earth meet for good and hold hands for good, will have no end. So those moments where we know and see and tell and sense the truth, and we hope that they would last forever…we wait for the day when they will.

We wait for the day when it finally has no end.

djordan
Pine Tree

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

a promise to wait

Screen Shot 2013-06-20 at 11.38.34 AM

there is a  love that never fails
there is a healing that always prevails
there is a hope that whispers a vow
a promise to wait
while we’re working it out
so come with your love
and wash over us
make us whole.

– sara groves

I’m reminded of the inherent power
in waiting
beyond our anger
beyond our grief
beyond our excitement
beyond our joy
beyond our anticipation
about the way things could be
or about the way things should be
or about the way things might be

Holding onto the hope of
what it means
to wait it out
to work it out
to watch as the waiting and the working
redeems anger and grief and even excitement and joy and anticipation
to push us into
something truer.

something that takes waiting on.
give us the strength to make the promise.

djordan
Pine Tree

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

worried about big legos

worried-about-big-legos

During a week filled with worries about class schedules, family illness, nonprofit fundraisers, big decisions, and tax nightmares, I found myself most concerned Wednesday afternoon about whether or not I would have a chance in the “intergalactic battle” being created at my feet with enormous legos.

I needed to type out a quick note for his grandmother on letterhead before our session was over, and I asked him if he preferred I do it at the beginning or the end. He said he would start building his army while I typed the letter, and then I could build mine, and then the war.

Halfway through the paragraph-long letter, I caught myself looking down at my feet and thinking, “How am I going to beat him? He’s built a fortress around his robots, and he has soldiers lining the wall on the inside and outside! I need to get finished with this letter so I have a chance at all!”

He was talking the entire time I was typing, which was adding to my stress. “You know I’m going to beat you, Donald. This wall is impenetrable. And these robots can break through all of your walls. Are you getting scared yet, Donald?”

And I WAS getting scared. I found myself trying to type faster so I could get to work on my own fortress and walls and robots.

So for about fifty minutes on Wednesday afternoon, I was laying on the floor in my office with an incredibly brave nine-year-old, who recently found his mother dead in her bed and called the police, worried about whether I had enough mega blocks to make an army big enough to contend with his.

I didn’t, of course. He won, not that I was trying to go easy on him; I wanted to win, but he beat me. We began to talk about his planning, his bravery, his skill, his initiative. These were all the things which led him to beating me in our intergalactic war on the bamboo rug in my office.  There were all the things which also led him to cope in miraculous and hope-affirming ways with the loss of his mother and a world turned upside down.

And it would be his lesson in these things which made me consider my class schedule, family illness, nonprofit fundraisers, big decisions and tax nightmares with the eyes of a nine-year-old who is much braver and stronger than I.

Every conversation is  privilege with answers waiting to be found by all involved. If it doesn’t feel that way, our arrogance is leading.

djordan
Pine Tree

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

a people who tell the truth | thoughts on ash wednesday

from dust you came, and to dust you will return

It occurred to me while getting a cross of ash smeared over my brow, hearing the words, “from dust you came, and to dust you will return,” that one of the things I appreciate the most about the faith I’m finding myself leaning into more and more is that we are a people not only allowed to tell the whole truth, not only even encouraged to do so, but ultimately demanded to do so.

We must tell the truth: the good, the heartbreaking, and the completely unexplainable.

And so we operate in a season of lament and reflection. We begin it by marking ourselves with the dust we come from and the dust to which we will return. We take time to fast from things to remind us of our desperation and dependence on the king of the coming kingdom for anything to be worth telling in the end.

And even when shiny churches and slick preachers grin and tell us how to be happy, we must tell the truth that the world goes not well. Injustice abounds and work toward justice often feels like tiny drops in an enormous ocean. Hearts ache with broken families and open wounds. Loss stings years later like the day death stole life from our fingertips.

And so we tell the truth. All of it.

The hope of the kingdom coming is only truly hopeful if it is the refrain after the we see the deep gray all around us, and admit that we are both broken by it and perpetrators of it.

Until all is made new.

And so, for lent, we remember that from dust we came, and to dust we will return.

djordan
Washington D.C.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

and once again we sing

Vietnam B-52 Bomb Craters

Throughout my last two jobs, I’ve had the same folded-up xerox copy of the first page of a memoir which has the following lines attributed to an anonymous Vietnamese poem taped to the wall above my desk:

We fill the craters left by the bombs
And once again we sing
And once again we sow
Because life never surrenders.

These words struck me when reading the memoir, but these days I don’t remember why. Over the last three years, I’ve thought a great deal about trauma and grief. First motivated to begin understanding it more while working with the survivors of homicide-loss, and then through my own personal journey through difficult work days, and now in the context of the lives of my individual clients as well as communities in which we work for transformation and development.

The notion that suffering and pain, while seen to be inherently private and uber-personal, is in reality communal and fundamentally social, the words are becoming more and more haunting.

As the church moves into communities of violence, systemic injustice, stigma, poverty, materialism, greed, addiction and isolation, we are often afraid to sing songs that the people waiting for the kingdom have sung for hundreds upon hundred of years…

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 
(from Psalm 137)

As a people waiting and working for transformation, before we fill the craters, before we take on life again, we must tell the dirty truth about our loss and despair and all that is wrong and evil and messy and undone in the world, in our private and personal worlds, and in our communal and social worlds. If we, those who hold the promise that life never surrenders, can’t tell the truth about the mess of it all, then we aren’t yet ready, aren’t yet brave enough, to sing and sow once again.

2013-02-01_16-01-42_735

djordan
Summar Dr.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

on advent | before we sing the song of Christmas

Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 9.06.20 AM

My house is actually clean because I threw a party here a week ago.
The Christmas tree has stopped shorting out with the help of an extra extension cord.
All the gifts are in and waiting to be wrapped.
Money is in the bank, and a job waits for me when I return from the holidays.
Evenings and meals with candlelight and laughter are planned nightly for the next week.
There is plenty to be joyful for in the days approaching Christmas for me.

But couples wrestle with miscarriage.
Clients wrestle with families falling apart.
Participants wrestle with utilities being shut off.
Loved ones wrestle with pressing in depression and hopelessness.
Men wrestle with finding a bridge under which to put a pillow for the night.
Strangers wrestle with missing six-year-olds for Christmas morning.
Friends wrestle with the murdered son, husband, wife, daughter.
There is plenty to be broken-hearted for in the days approaching Christmas for me and others.

Enter the truth of advent.

Beyond flashy Christmas programs and shiny Christmas cards
taken twenty times until we liked the way our chins looked,
Beyond rhetoric over guns and entitlement and taxes and “wars on Christmas,”
sits a spinning world that while some goes well,
much goes not well.

Enter the truth of advent.

Skipped for Christmas morning by many churches and Christians
following in line behind consumers and the mighty dollar,
Advent waits in the dark nights before Christmas morning
telling the truth
allowing the tears
holding out hope
that while the world goes not well
the kingdom comes.

And when advent is allowed to enter
and linger under candlelight,
the words of the old hymn make a little more sense,
and make Christmas morning a little more important,
because we were allowed to wait for Christmas.

O ye beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Until the new heaven and earth own their King,
May we tell ourselves the truth of Advent
before we sing the song of Christmas.

Amen.

djordan
Pine Tree

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

the class who shows up | on the 5th annual homicide-loss walk

After five years of standing in line watching men and women, propped up babies on hips and grandparents escorted with walkers, this year was different altogether.

It is both encouraging and discouraging to see the crowd grow year after year at the Commemorative Walk for survivors of homicide-loss. It’s been my privilege to listen to and learn from these men and women in a weekly support group, but to see them walk through candlelit paths holding photos of their murdered husbands, sons, grandsons, wives, mothers and grandmothers is altogether horrifying and holy at the same time.

And it has been every year these last five years since the very first walk. It is always holy in the way honestly telling the honest truth is always holy and almost always horrifying.

But this year, there was something new for me as I stood in the evening’s mist.

Looking into the line of men and women with faces barely glowing from the candles in their hands, I saw my students. The clock strikes nine every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and my students are faithful to be patient with me in class as I dance onto tangents, threaten with grades and bribe with food. They have listened to me grow awkwardly teary about the histories of movers and shakers from the margins of the field whom God has used to bring kingdom change across the globe. They have held on as we’ve acted out counseling sessions, as we’ve debated the reasons for poverty and welfare, and as we have pushed the questions of power dynamics and our goodwill to the limits. They always show up.

But this night, lining the sidewalks where women and men who have become dear to me walk through their glowing candles and make clear that their murdered loved ones will not be forgotten, my students showed up. As tears filled my own eyes, I lost my breath in thinking that these very students were standing physically and symbolically right on a dangerous line. They were being both witness to the hard and horrible and hopeless truths like rampant homicide in a community, and were also making a symbolic promise that as social workers who are Christians they will join in the kingdom work to make peace on earth as it is in heaven.

My prayer for those students and any of my students, is that some day in the not-so-distant future there will be professors of Social Work or Theology or Education or Business standing up in front of their own classes telling the names of my students, and talking about how they pushed in from the margins to make peace and to change the world with and for Christ and his kingdom.

And when I hear those stories told, I’ll remember the way their faces glowed this night.

djordan
Pine Tree

RELATED POSTS | what they are teaching me | what they are teaching me 2 | when others tell their stories

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

from the archives | loss as loss, not as lesson

 

In reflecting on the upcoming one-year anniversary of mosthopeful.com on August 23, I’m throwing some of the posts that readers have looked at the most back into the mix. Thanks for allowing me the space. It’s been a most humbling experience.

Below is the most viewed post from the blog over the last year, the first year of the blog. Thanks to the friends, families, and clients who have helped me grow in understanding and practice as it involves those grieving, and for helping me learn that we are all learning how to live in a world that is not yet whole.

+++

View the original post and comments from March 12, 2012

 

loss as loss, not as lesson

 

Loss as loss, not as lesson

Maybe it springs from our own deep need to protect ourselves when we know we cannot.

When a tragedy happens of some kind, especially the loss of a son or friend to a kind of accidental death, it is our nature to jump to working at meaning-making. When someone is lost to old age, or even long-term illness, there are many bedside conversations that make space for meaning to be made.

I am sorry for this.
I want you to know this.
I wish we had this.
I want us to do this.

You mean this to me.
You taught me this.
You are loved.

But when an accident happens, or a sudden death, or a suicide, or a crime…
There is no time for words to fill the space.
No hands touching hands.
No way to know they know.

And so we end up stuck on this side of the sleep, trying our damnedest to make sense of the whole thing. We look into every question we could possibly ask to make meaning, and there is none to be found. Often those closest to the loss are stuck spinning in the losing itself, until they can solve it, keep it from having ever happened, get those last words in.

Which of course, proves meaningless as well.

And then there are the onlookers among us, tucking our children in at night, kissing our spouse, patting our buddies on the back, and wondering what we would ever do if we were to lose them.

That’s when we find ourselves making the loss a lesson, as if that makes it worth happening. As if it protects us from it happening to us or those we love. We begin to talk about how “it has taught us …”

And there is an illusion to our nature of doing this that suggests there is meaning as long as we learn something from it. If we make a tragic loss a lesson, it won’t be meaningless anymore.

But I don’t want my dead son, spouse, buddy to be a lesson; I want them to be my son, spouse, buddy. We want lives to be meaningful, not deaths. We want to say their names and images of life, not tragedy, to be conjured up. And when they are gone, especially when I didn’t have time to make meaning with them, I want to grieve. And I want them to be remembered for what their lives taught others, not their meaningless, untimely, horribly tragic death.

The meaning is in remembering who they were.
The grief is in losing them to begin with.

The loss is a loss.
Meaningless.
Void.
Empty.
It is not things as they should be.
It is before all things are made new.

There is, however, meaning in remembering.
And grief is not our enemy, but a sign that we have hearts full of love and woven with connection.
In our caring for the greiving, may we, like our God, be close to those whose hearts are breaking.

Breaking hearts are not a lesson; they are breaking hearts.
And they, in themselves, are worth all the world.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

from the archives | a time for everything

 

In reflecting on the upcoming one-year anniversary of mosthopeful.com on August 23, I’m throwing some of the posts that readers have looked at the most back into the mix. Thanks for allowing me the space. It’s been a most humbling experience. This post is especially important to me, as it was a moment of honoring the pain and struggle of the year before, and then celebrating––in advance––what waited in the year ahead.

There were conversations that evening about how we would learn from the ridiculous pains and struggles of the year, and move toward the kingdom with new insight, and new scars, into the future.

A few weeks after that party (talked about below), I was sitting with in Stellenbosch with some of my favorite people in all the world, and I began talking with a friend from London, living and working in Cape Town, about how victories and happy memories are honored with parties thrown and anniversaries given, but the painful experiences and struggles are only valued once we come up with “reasons” for why they happened.

She mentioned, feet in the chilly water at a campsite in Stellenbosch, that we ought honor the painful landmarks in our history as well as the ones we naturally celebrate. The party thrown at the beginning of this year was an opportunity to celebrate and to mourn what had been, and to look with great expectation toward the future, knowing that God is working through his people in his world toward the kingdom.

So, another top-viewed post from the archives…

+++

View the original post and comments from January 8, 2012

 

a time for everything

 

It is with great joy that I enter 2012.

2011 was filled with pain, loss, struggle, sadness, anxiety, and anger.

The year overall was one of seeing the best of circumstances end up as the worst of possible outcomes.

And yet through each season and struggle, there has been tearful laughter, growing community, deeper honesty, brave introspection, and tenuous hope.

And it all feels a little closer to the truth. A little closer to telling the truth.

To others.

To myself.

To the part of all of us that tries to close our eyes to what we know the painful truth is sometimes.

There are times when everything in me wants to arrange my circumstances in ways that hope for the best; those same times, if I were being honest with myself and those around me, I would instead be anticipating the worst. Before this year, I think I’ve tried to push everything, no matter the truth, into a single season.

As if allowing ONLY a season for birth, and then trying to translate death into birth in order to make sense of it.

As if allowing ONLY a season for building, and then trying to add on to things that needed only to be torn all the way down.

As if allowing ONLY a season for embracing, and then awkwardly trying to embrace when I should have refrained from doing so.

As if allowing ONLY a season for speaking out, and then trying to explain why I couldn’t be silent if I had wanted to.

The pain of 2011 has made important room for fall and winter. There is a need and space for dying, for tearing down, for refraining from embrace, for remaining silent. A season for these things.

And in the spaces made from telling the truth about our winters, spring comes on the heels. The ground is made soft, the legs become limber, the imagination becomes ready, and things begin to take root, people begin to dance and build again.

And so here’s to the new year, filled with possibilities for both celebration and mourning. Life and death. Dancing and weeping. Building and tearing down.

And an insistence on the holiness of both––on telling the truth about both–to ourselves and others.

For everything there is season.

djordan
Pine Tree Dr.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,