Monthly Archives: April 2014

To Death

I have actually started thinking lately that life is more about dying than it is living.  I know. . .I know. . .our culture disagrees.  “Just do it” echoes from the top of a commercial mountain top and carpe diem isn’t just the thematic intent of poets and artists.  It seems that if you are not sucking deeply from the marrow of life or mentally capturing every moment, you are allowing the dusky twilight of death to shade your perspective.  We are saturated each day with a barrage of media images of athletes sweating colors out of their pores and soldiers climbing mountains to grasp the shiny sword of courage.  We can’t get enough of life, and we can’t avoid death hard enough.  Turn around when you see it.  Ignore that marker in the cemetery.  Pop that pill before you get on that airplane.  Find something to distract yourself when you see death in a friend’s eyes.  It is just too disturbing. . .too inconvenient.  We got too much living to do.  Like Andy tells Red in The Shawshank Redemption:  “Get busy living or get busy dying.”  As if life were really about that choice.

Now, I am not a big advocate of eliminating the color of hope from a successful perspective on life.  In fact I like hope.  I’m a big fan.  However, I am merely suggesting that it is the taste of death that brings out the full flavor of a life well-lived.  Ignoring it. . .shrinking from the tiny deaths we are all faced with periodically is nothing but the systematic betrayal of a process our hearts need to really embrace the essential beauty in life.

I am barren.  One day, my doctor told me my body was young, but my eggs were old.  Expiration date, anyone?  Nope.  Missed the cut off and didn’t even know there was one.  So for a few years of my life, I was simply stuck with an empty womb and the stench of death.  How can nothing feel like a loss?  Well, I can’t answer that philosophically, but you can just take my word for it.  To put it in more eloquent terms:  it sucked.  I didn’t endure this death with all of my dignity intact, either.  I flailed my arms; I broke into tears in the soup aisle of the grocery store;  I acted like a fool in front of people I love; I checked out on my responsibilities,  all because I ”deserved” too.  And I did like we all do when death knocks on our door, I questioned the very One who has conquered it.  “Why make this my cross to bear?” I ask.  “For what purpose does this dream end?”  And even as time began to work its magic in my heart, I found myself emerging from the valley of death just in time to see the imprint of life before me.  The plan had always been there veiled from my view, but now depicted in deep cuts of color I had never seen before.  My eyes were opened to the vibrant shades of possibility that did not exist in my own pre-death color wheel. . .the face of my child somewhere across a continent or two waiting for my husband and I to show up shone brightly next to the muted hues of broken wombs and failed pregnancy tests.  And every day I felt a love strengthening from a man who was more than willing to express his devotion to me in brokenness, while at the same time putting to death his own dreams for a passel of tow-headed children.  This was a color of love I had no idea even existed.  You tell me?  How would I have ever experienced the sweet had I not tasted the bitter?  Would I have been simply satisfied with the white gown and the words without ever feeling love lived out in despair?  Would I have been content to swaddle my biological baby if I could have seen my son’s bright eyes shining a world away?  I don’t know if I would have had any answers if those questions had not been posed for me.

My non-genetic sister, Mary, coined this phrase years ago when we were living in post college semi-poverty:   “God is trying to kill me.”  We would laugh and say, “As if God ever tries anything.”  Looking back at our misplaced amusement, I find it funny how we put the emphasis on the wrong word.  God is trying to kill us so we might truly live.  So we might taste His flavors, see His colors, listen to His music, and not be satiated with our less than stellar designs, our own flawed artistry.  Yet, we cry and scream and hold on to what we believe is the only way, and by doing so, we prolong the natural grief that comes with dying the death of our own white picket fences, our neatly groomed lawns, and our 2.5 children with my nose and his eyes.  We prolong the moment when our lives come into focus with divine vision, and for a season, we live in a world of awareness and recognition of God’s faithfulness and goodness.  And because we are fallen creatures, that vision inevitably blurs once again, as our flesh fights back, and death must make a return trip in Emily Dickinson’s carriage, over and over and over.  You see, on this side of eternity, we are never really done with dying, so that we are never really done with living.

I have a few friends who are in the middle of their own seasons of death right now.  I bet you do too.  That turn on the wheel of life is only one spin away.  Marriages fail, parents get sick, jobs ask too much, children rebel, and we are left with mortal wounds and the sickening sound of silence.  It may be you, at this moment, standing at the edge of a newly dug grave, where you see your expertly manicured plan for your life decaying before your very eyes.  Weep wildly but take heart.  That dull gray of death will give way soon to a life you could not have planned if you tried.  Yes, my friends, dying is not just an inevitable journey we will take at the end of a sequence of days on this planet.  I submit it is as necessary to the experience of God’s life for us as our next breath is to sustaining our physical existence.  So, raise a glass with me, if you will, to death.  Our greatest adversary and our most important ally.

Big Papi

Little League.  Coach pitch.  Age 6.  Today was the first day that Luca had the game riding on his shoulders.  The only problem:  he had no clue.

I am going to be honest.  In general, I am bad with names.  After 40, I have trouble keeping up with my own.  But memorizing the revolving door of Luca’s teammates at this age is virtually impossible.  As a result, Paul and I have a tendency of nicknaming them based on their abilities.  This nicknaming game is simultaneous necessity and entertainment.

So far in Luca’s illustrious career as a baseball player, he has been a Cub, a Pirate, and this season, a member of the Braves.  Right now, it is hard to know if Luca “enjoys” baseball as a sport.  I mean he kicks the dust less, he picks daisies in the outfield less, he throws his glove in the air less . . . he is ever so slowly conforming to the notion of team.  However, I wonder sometimes, as he is twirling in the outfield, if he is asking himself what in the world he is doing out there.  Sometimes I catch him turning to stare at the line forming outside concessions, and I know he is formulating a secret plan to start his own tab.  What is even more difficult to bear is that he has a natural athleticism that he seems to be completely unaware of.  Any time he concedes strength or agility is when he is imagining himself as the Incredible Hulk.    He has yet to see any use for these skills outside the realm of imagination or the world of a super hero.

Now say what you will about Luca being “only 6.”  There are some men on his team this season . . .with full beards and deep voices and manly baseball ready stances.  Two of them are left-handed hitters able to find the lefty sweet spot just like Mickelson on a Sunday.  They are nicknamed Bruiser and Big Papi, respectively.  When Big Papi comes to the plate, he is all DiMaggio, with his baseball hat turned backwards, the bill peeking out from under his batting helmet.  His lip is bulging with a wad of Big League Chew somebody shared with him in the dugout, and he pronounces his arrival with two swift but punctuated taps on home plate.  This kid NEVER misses, and when I say NEVER, I actually mean NEVER.  I am shouting this right now.  He generally hits it to the fence and a triple is under shooting his potential.  Today, however, Big Papi couldn’t find the ball with a shovel.  The kid was in a slump, a big one, and our team was needing him badly.  The A’s had us down 5 to 0 when Luca strolled to the plate making the Grand Canyon behind him by dragging his bat.  After a short comedy routine to the crowd, he put his stick on the ball, bringing in our first run and starting a major rally.

Bottom of the 6th, tied at 5, one out, man on third . . . Big Papi races from the dugout to home plate.  “We got this,” I whispered to Paul.  “Big Papi doesn’t know how to lay off.  He will be swinging for the fences.”  Sure enough.  He swung for the fence exactly three times, missing all three.  “He’s out,” squeaked the teenager masquerading as umpire.  Having no sense of the batting order, I turned to a parent behind me and uttered, “Well, at least we have one more try!  No way we won’t get that man in from third.”  Swiveling back to the field, I peered over my fake Ray Bans to find our savior in waiting.  Who was this little big man who was going to lead the Braves to victory?  At once, I spied his multi-colored laces; red on one cleat, blue on the other.  It was Luca.  He practically danced to home plate, smiling that toothy grin at the crowd, looking embarrassed and semi-determined all at once.  The game was on his bat, and he didn’t even know it.  All the sudden, my stomach turned to knots and Paul’s color drained from his face, both of us nervous for our son who hasn’t figured out how to be.  First pitch.  Strike.  Second pitch.  Strike.  Third pitch.  Luca doesn’t like it.  Fourth pitch.  Foul ball.  “Way to keep fighting,” I yelled.  “Get mad at it!”  “Follow through.”  Fifth pitch . . . slow motion . . . strike.  “He’s out,” the pimply umpire yelled.  All the air in my body escaped as the look on Paul’s face reflected my disappointment.

And then I looked up and something magical happened.  I caught Luca dancing his way back to the dugout.  Dancing.  He had no idea that he just had his moment in the sun.  His opportunity for hero status.  He had no awareness that this time at bat was different from any other.  No searing disappointment.  No tears.  Blissful ignorance in motion.  He just wanted a hug from his momma, a blue Icee and what he always wants, the game ball.  Just for a moment, I was at peace, resting in the knowledge that there is a shred of innocence left.  All the drama of the day created by the adults.  On this day, I learned something.  Luca remained oblivious.  And for once, that was okay.

Let it Burn.

“When I have fears that I may cease to be before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain.”  -John Keats

I have some things to say, and until I say those things, it burns.  Not a roaring burst that must be instantly extinguished, but a low flame, a source of heat that lives beneath the light of my everyday.  The release that comes once I speak or write is pure peace, peace for the moment until the burn begins anew.  I can’t explain this.  I never have been able to understand why I used to lie in the bed reciting Bible story tapes I memorized while trying to take a nap, why I used to stand in the front of the mirror reciting my notes for a test the next day, why I used to rehearse conversations out loud before I had them, or why I used to practice the inflections and facial expressions for a properly articulated hook in a speech.  I can’t tell you why, but I can tell you how.  Teaching.  It has provided an outlet for this low burn for almost twenty years.  Teaching and the occasional speaking engagement or the infrequently posted written note for Facebook.  No doubt about it, my students have been my captive audience all this time, my test audience, my guinea pigs.  And I have loved every second of it.

Now, however, I am craving a new outlet.  A different platform.  I have no intention of forsaking the teaching podium because I believe I was born for it.  However, there seems to be something calling me in the distance.  And believe me, if this burn could be doused by a Zantac or a Harley or a new relationship or some retail therapy or a pill, I would have found a way to shed myself of it long ago.  There is nothing quite as exquisitely painful as living near the edge of an unrealized dream.  So, I am going to let it burn.  Let the intensity grow until it burns away the apathy and the procrastination and the busy-ness that impedes the best of us.  And I don’t know where this lighted path will lead, but I am going to walk it anyway, being intentional about speaking my dreams aloud.  I don’t want to write merely for an intellectual exercise or a creative outlet.  To write honestly and to speak boldly.  For me, both acts are simple expressions of a grand pursuit of meaning and purpose defined in the light of an absolute and made most abundant in its shadow.  And this blog is the first step of that process.  So today is the day of declaring the burn, and I hope you will walk along this path with me, and carry your candle as well.  Let’s all walk  in the light of our shared dreams lest our fire burns out.