Monday, May 26, 2014

Hangin' On (What's Gonna Come)

You've been kneeling in the dark for far too long
You've been waiting for that spark but it hasn't come
Well I'm calling to you please get off the floor
A good heart will find you again
A good heart will find you 
Just be ready then

From “Bird of Sorrow” on Glen Hansard’s album Rhythm and Repose

Life can be overwhelming. With heavy hearts, we learn of yet another mass shooting. Hundreds of Nigerian girls are still missing. Climate change continues to be denied and ignored. North Carolina lawmakers hurriedly push a devastating pro-fracking bill through the state senate. Tennessee reintroduces the electric chair. Millions of Syrians are crowded in refugee camps; others are trapped and starving in bombarded cities.

It seems the Man in Black was on to something when he proclaimed to Buttercup that “life is pain."

On this Memorial Day, we remember those who died in war. Peace-seeking people the world over pray and work for the day when mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, lovers, spouses, and friends won't have to bury another young person lost to conflict.

As I child, I couldn't wait for the beginning of summer. I knew West Virginia hills, my grandmother's spaghetti, and family get-togethers were right around the bend after Memorial Day. But summers aren't easy for me anymore. 

Fourteen years ago, at the age of 17, my life changed when my best friend unexpectedly died after graduation. A few years later, my dad's best friend died in May. Four years after that loss, my brother's best friend died days shy of his 23rd birthday in June. At the end of that summer, my grandmother (and kindred spirit) Sparky left us. Two school friends were also shot and killed as we grieved. Summers are now full of dark days.

What are we to do in a world where young people are sent to faraway lands to kill one another while old men refuse to engage in meaningful dialogue? How can we manage to get through the day when we hear that students have once again been slaughtered? When children and women suffer and starve in Syria and countless corners of the earth? When politicians think only of power and profit as them damn the environment and the 'least' among us? When we reflect on the lives of dear friends we feel we lost too soon?

We are overwhelmed and broken people. Our hearts are hurting.

When the pain of life begins to settle in, I find myself listening to a lot of Yes The Raven, Glen Hansard, and Steafan Hanvey. These Irish crooners sing of heartache like few can. 

And then I begin to remember.

I remember goodness. And beauty. 

This world is filled with darkness. And sometimes, life really is pain. But there is more. 

In recent years, Mother Teresa's memory and life's work have been lambasted. Her private journals, full of devastating doubt and crushing loss, were made public. Some have seen her honest questioning and pleading as proof that she was a fraud. Far from living a lie, I believe this modern day saint gave of herself because that's all she could do in the face of so much suffering. For me, her life is even more of an example in light of her tremendous periods of disbelief. Instead of giving up or retreating to a more comfortable lifestyle, she continued to pour out love - even when she didn't feel like it. Even when she herself could feel no love.

My friend and pastor, Mark Andrews, just finished a sermon series entitled "Formed at the Table: Taken, Blessed, Broken, and Given." Each Sunday in May, he focused on one of the actions of Christ as he shared the last supper. Mark challenged his congregants to allow ourselves to be taken, blessed, and broken, so that we may ultimately give.

It is in giving ourselves that we can face the world and its many tragedies. Instead of succumbing to paralysis, we are called to action. We do well when we heed Gandhi's advice and become the change we wish to see. 

Mark doesn't just advise from a pulpit. He and his wife Denise are taking renewal leave to bike 4,000 miles across the United States. They hope to raise funds and awareness to combat human trafficking. Their 'pedaling to stop traffic' campaign begins in a few days. I'll miss my friends this summer, but their example is life-giving.
Mark and Denise try out their tiny tent that will be their home for the next three months.
There is much to celebrate in this life. It's easy to forget. But we can't let ourselves.

My niece turned five today. Named after my brother's best friend AJ, our little AJ adds joy to our lives just as her namesake always did. She is unaware of the darkest places and problems of this world. She is full of light. 
Our little AJ celebrates her 5th birthday with sopapilla.
I don't know that I'll ever become a mother. But already my life is full of children. My niece and the daughters and sons of friends make my broken heart happy. I want to give of myself to these little ones. I want them to know love and goodness and grace. When life gets overwhelming, I have to remind myself that these little people need us older folk to prove that life might be hard at times, but that there is always beauty to be found. And what's more, if we instill in them a love for nature and humanity, beauty just might be easier to spot in the future.

Children innately have the ability to rejoice in the simple pleasures of life. Squealing with delight in the cold rush of creek water, smiling at a passing butterfly, singing a made up ditty as if nobody hears... I want more of that childlike wonder in my own life.

Last week, my three-year-old pal Caden and I spent some sweet time lying on cool grass and watching clouds float by. He found some dinosaur and pirate ship clouds. He was interested in the turtle and duck clouds I saw. In that moment, my life was full. Nothing but joy was present.

We need to look for more of those opportunities.

I'm thankful for a built-in reminder of the goodness of life. Living with my housemate Abby is like coexisting with a little hippie fairy. Music and laughter just naturally exude from her. We're both sensitive, artsy types. We mourn over tragedies. We let them sit with us for a while. But we're learning to help each other remember to look for the beauty. And we encourage one another to give of ourselves. Even if we don't feel up to it.
Abby plays banjo as she and I harmonize on our back deck.
I just got to hug that sweet girl after days of being apart. I spent the weekend at a singles workshop at Lake Junaluska. As the Director of Programs for a United Methodist Church, I went to the conference with an open mind as my friend and Deacon Nancy McDow considers beginning a new singles program for our community.

On the first night, one of the facilitators mentioned a beloved saint of mine - Thomas. (Poor man. I've always thought Thomas was given a bum rap. Being labeled Doubting Thomas seems unfair when he was just putting into words what most of us would have felt if someone told us our friend had risen from the dead. After all, he was a man of courage: he spoke up and encouraged his terrified comrades when none of them wanted to return to Bethany with Jesus after Lazarus died.)

To a room full of hurting people - most of whom were struggling with divorces or deaths of spouses - the leader reminded us that when we give of ourselves and show our wounds (as Jesus did for dear Thomas), others can see light and love. In being brave and authentic, others can do the same. In the process, we all begin to heal.

While I was secluded in the mountains, Pope Francis showed his scars and the scars Christians have endured and inflicted as he visited the Holy Land. His call for reconciliation resounds because of his authentic gift of grace.

One of my favorite writers, Henri Nouwen, believed that "our greatest fulfillment lies in giving ourselves to others." Faced with this world and its challenges, I tend to agree. The world needs us. What will be our response?