So long 2013, don’t let the door hit you on the way out

So long 2013, don’t let the door hit you on the way out

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Photo credit: Tony Hutchings/Getty Images

I cannot wait to close the book on 2013.

Then I am going to pour gasoline on that book.

Then I am going to set that book on fire.

2013 can go to hell which — seemingly — is exactly where it came from.  I’d be happy to expedite the journey, thank you very much.

Here’s to a better 2014.

Silence

I have been trying to think what to write about my life right now to a five year old in Tanzania and a ten year old in Ecuador.  I have no good answers, and life lately has left me stunned and silent.  I am currently caught in the middle of a lawsuit involving a boat and a bathtub that will leave me having to move on again, slightly out-of-area, and cut off from my family for awhile.  Definitely cut off from Los Angeles.  There are advantages and disadvantages.  I have been thinking about many things.

I am on the bathtub end of the lawsuit, which will keep me driven from the house until it is fixed.  This morning I went to mass.  Fr. Arturo got an ‘A’ in homiletics in two languages (and surely an ‘A’ in choir as well).  This morning’s text was Luke 6:20-26 — the Beatitudes and their inverse.  I could not stop crying.

2013 isn’t working out, but God is on the throne and I am loved.  I’m not sure much more needs to or can be said.

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Wentworth Wigglewhiskers

I drew this for a dear friend — niece of another dear friend — a few years back.  The full picture was Eleanor and Wentworth with  a cupcake.  Wentworth is getting on, but he and his amazing family really light my life.  I am tired and wondering what is next.

Blessings — VKS

Life, such as it is

Life, such as it is

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Photo source: Guinea Pig Zone

Life has not been kind lately, and most days I honestly feel like every aspect of my life is an accelerated program for professional development for pastoral care.  It’s like job training via sadists, it’s &%$#ing ridiculous at this point.

Seriously.  &%$#ing.  Ridiculous.

And every day it’s some new thing — something on Facebook, an e-mail, something happening outside my door.  I can’t discuss any of it here, but it’s quite a list of people coming to me for random horrible things that also happen to be on my life experience résumé.

Really, God?!?!?!  Really?!?!?!?!

News flash: the whole “pastoral care” thing?  I’m not getting paid for this.  And I’m not putting myself out there as the random emotional dumping ground for the universe — it just happens that (when my best friends aren’t dropping dead) very many close long-time friends are coming to me for counsel…all at once.

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I don’t get a break from this, ever, except when I am at church, in church, actively worshipping or praying.

I love that the Roman Catholic church is OPEN 7 DAYS for prayer and worship, because guess what? I can’t “schedule” or “save up” my need to find a sacred space for prayer and worship for a specific hour a week on Sundays. Thank God a million times over for morning mass.

Add sweltering muggy heat on top of it all.

Sunday night I was struck by my life and that I can’t believe I ever considered anything but ministry.

I am overwhelmed. Tomorrow I am taking a sanity day.

On life, glacial evangelism, and a Reblog: “Just Be…Normal”

On life, glacial evangelism, and a Reblog: “Just Be…Normal”

“Life isn’t always about being ‘out there,’ always with a smile on our faces and willing to give a measured account of Christ’s death and resurrection in fine-print detail.  Sometimes life is about — well, everyday life.  And just being ourselves — normal people — is enough to bring hope where it’s needed.”
— Tsh Oxenreider Simple Mom

I’m a born writer, and I love to write, but I am all too familiar with all life changing in an instant.  My own world started going down in flames a week ago Friday, but it turned into a raging inferno last Thursday afternoon.  It was just after four, I’d been passing the afternoon in a completely mundane way — my netbook has some “special” qualities (e.g., the screen only works when you hold it tilted 45° facing the keys and typing blind, the battery is on its way out and won’t hold a charge, and it won’t pick up the weak WiFi signal in the house because its antenna isn’t as sensitive as my NOOK tablet), so because of this it hadn’t been online for awhile…thus when I turned it on over visiting my mother and niece for lunch, it started updating everything.

Everything.

So much for my planned job search.

I made myself a cup of tea around four, was going to drink that and head home.  While I was waiting for it to cool, I had my USB cables and was going to move picture files of baby guinea pigs off my phone and onto the other two computers to upload to Facebook (easy, something to be done over a cup of tea).

Things didn’t work out that way.

When I pulled out my phone (still silenced from when I pit it on Silent Mode for the morning’s Bible Study class), I found text messages and missed calls about an emergency unfolding back home.

Dumped a perfect and beautiful cup of too-hot tea down the sink (I’m pretty sure tea — not blood — flows through my veins).  I am still sorry about this.

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Raced home the five or so blocks to take my place in the unfolding nightmare as “support staff” to the famiily I live with (and have lived with for the past two years).  Without much for details, suffice it to say that my role is somewhat one of an embedded missionary, kind of like Mary Poppins/care pastor in a family with three small children.  I love them all, they are family.

The advantage in this situation is that I am cool in crisis, have some background how to navigate what is going on (it’s on my résumé), and an already an established/stable/normal presence in this household.  “Miss Val’s in-charge” brings no drama, and Miss Val will probably take you on an adventure.

But the disadvantage is that my own life is now in the middle of a very big mess (prayers appreciated if you are so-inclined), which has put my own ability to write and every single plan and “To Do” List on hold.

So my own life and writing are probably somewhat on-hold at present, and I am going to have to let the wise and inspiring words of others carry me — and you, perhaps — for a little while until I know what’s what.

But I’m still reading and still thinking, still an absolute prayer warrior for intercession in the lives of all I love so dearly.

That said, the post I’m reblogging here with a link really resonated with me when I read it this morning . Now, you’ve heard of “elevator pitch” evangelism? That’s the speed-talking-close-the-deal-to-the-point-why-you-need-Jesus.

And I don’t think it works.

My evangelism style — especially with the Jonahs and burned-by-churchy-hypocrites God sends my way (I haven’t met an Ethiopian eunuch yet) — is more along the lines of “glacial evangelism.”

Because glaciers move very, very, very slowly…but have a profound and deep impact on everything in their path.

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Yes, St. Val knows this is the proper cultural reference

My personal philosophy is that the world does not need another Jesus freak who truly is a freak — no knowledge of how life in a secular society works, profoundly lacking social skills, not merely intolerant but downright hostile, and so ridiculously fake and polished as to be grating and abrasive. So many of the broken people God sends me have been burned by just such people.

What I am advocating is not a policy of being soft on Jesus in the least. The truth is that if you are truly a Christian, truly empowered by the Holy Spirit, your life will be radically different starting with the way you think and view the world. That’s not to say you will be a socially inept separatist, rejecting the world wholly…it just means you will be a little more mindful of your choices, values, how you spend your time, and how you live your life.

But it doesn’t mean you can’t still be a normal person.

Because the truth of the matter is, unless you are a “real” person of character and integrity, no one in the world is going to care to listen to what you say anyway. The truth about evangelism is that if you can make a friend, you can “do evangelism,” because the entire process is profoundly relational.

Which is why I think the whole crusade model and elevator pitch evangelism is garbage: no follow-through.

Because life in-Christ, a life of discipleship isn’t about “say the thing, pray the prayer — *poof* — #HolySpirit!!! No, there is much more to living a life of Christian Discipleship not covered in any ither way but…living a life of Christian Discipleship. That really is the beginning and end of it. And it may draw ire to say I’m soft on ire for saying it, but by no means am I insinuating that the only thing necessary for Christian evangelism is to be a nice person and hope people notice. Sometimes the everyday nitty-gritty details of what effective witnessing requires is the street cred of normalcy and just being ourselves (in-Christ) to witness that Christianity isn’t something open for application only to supersaint separatists.

Submitted for your consideration: (in)courage — Just Be…Normal

Blessings for your Sunday (so glad it’s Sunday, I really need to spend some time with my church family in all that swirls!!!) — VKS

Voting down “real” Jesus

Voting down “real” Jesus

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The Getty Center, taken 30 May 2012

Excerpted from, why yes, a letter to a friend, written 3 June 2013…

Thought of you a lot while waiting for the 761 to the Getty yesterday.  The question has been raised by various people at various times lately, and specifically in a small group study I attended last week: Which is preferable, “real” flesh & blood Jesus, or the Holy Spirit?

I always have the “wrong” answer.  I always vote down Jesus, well “real” Jesus.

People tend to think “real” Jesus would be better, because “real” Jesus would somehow automatically be spending all his time with just them.  That’s even worse, because if Jesus is with me, there are billions of people other than me in the world that he is NOT helping.

That’s no good — that’s terrible in-fact.

I can’t be “for” that.

Because one of the best things about God is that we do not merely have a Jesus who can help us as he has time to help (if something of our life or faith happens to catch his attention). We have the Holy Spirit — a helper just like Christ — to be with us (each and every one of us) always.

And what I am reminded of most Sundays is that — even though I love Jesus very, very, very much…I don’t want who I am in-Christ to be merely about what I receive from Jesus. What I was reminded of in my conversations with various saints throughout the weekend (especially the people who actually asked with love and attention how I was doing and were ready for more than a one or two word answer), is that life in Christ — which is life in the Spirit — is not just a life where we receive something from Christ,

it is a life where we receive from the Spirit in such a way that God is no longer an external God who has to reach out and touch, but an internal presence free to work from within: to love us, and to work through us to love others in a beautiful and powerful way. The Spirit also helps us to love each other.

That’s a beautiful thing.

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And it’s in those quiet moments — when there are tears without words and hugs that don’t let go — that I am reminded of just how great and beautiful a grace it is to have Christ’s love, by the Spirit, to each other, through us.

Love to you my friend. I’ve lost count at this point the line-itemed list of things I should be praying about for you…but I’ve got the big things. I’m trusting the Spirit to chink the cracks on my prayers for you my friend. The point of intercessory prayer isn’t the list or the words, but the love behind the words.

We were talking about prayer in Sunday School class yesterday, and I commented that my own life is always full of situations that need a lot of prayer because God sends me places no one else is willing to go (because he knows I will go without asking a bunch of questions about what will happen or what’s in it for me). It’s about having the kind of faith to know to jump when you can’t see a pool or water in the pool because you know that with God there is a pool and there is water in the pool, even when you don’t know how far you’re going to fall before you find it.

I call it faith, but a lot of people call it stupid.

Love to you, and may God’s peace, love, hope, and comfort be with you strongly in all things this day. Blessings, love, and hugs to you my friend.

[The credit for the amazingly beautiful icon, “The Visitation” was too long to be a caption for that image, but it was so amazing and inspiring I need to put credit where credit is due: http://3acres.blogspot.com/2010/04/icon-update-iv-visitation-is-finished.html]

The View from the “Clouds”

The View from the “Clouds”

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A pastor friend posted this video on Facebook on Tuesday (21 May 2013).  Though he wasn’t the first person in my feed who did, his comments gave me pause.  He wrote:

He died yesterday at age 17.
How does a kid know so much about parenting?
How does a teen know so much about life?
How does one suffering know so much about joy?
How can such sorrow and loss shout hope and purpose?

When we talk, Sunday after Sunday, that it is possible to have joy in all things, he shows it is possible.

So how can I put the wisdom of this life, with all its joy, hope, and courage into my life?  I want to be like him when I grow up.

Before watching the video, I replied:

There are those among us who have not only spent life living, but watching and thinking — the introspective contemplatives.  It is in the presence of these individuals that one realizes what “an old soul” truly means.  Most live simple lives that only impact the lives of those in their immediate world around them, but every so often the words of one or another of these remarkable persons are preserved and handed down. Often we find the writings of these individuals as mature adults, but in peeling back the layers, realize the individuals in question were long remarkable. Add to all of that the knowledge that he knew that life is short, fleeting, and precious long before most people figure out they aren’t invincible and immortal…that’s how.

The video:

Love the video. Zach gets it — got it:

“Because you can either sit in your basement and wait, or you can get out there and do some crazy stuff.”

“Life is just really beautiful moments, one right after the other.”

“It’s really simple actually, it’s just…try and make people happy. Maybe you have to learn in less time, maybe you have to learn it the hard way, but as long as you learn it, you’re gonna make the world a better place.”

So many people clutter up life with just…things that don’t even matter. The younger this can be learned — the sooner this can be learned — what does matter, the better. The gift that Zach’s cancer gave him was a clarity about this. The thing that can be the greatest evil in this world is not isolated incidents of wickedness and depravity, but the wholesale distraction on a massive and societal level toward ephemeral things and away from the beauty and preciousness of what makes life…life.

Not the best shot of either one of us, but there we are

Not the best shot of either one of us, but there we are

I have a dear baby niece who I try to see a little bit every day. She’s about four and a half months old (younger in this picture) — a sweet, willful, sassy little thing — this child has known what she wanted since before she was born. But she came into the world with little expectation from life — as we all do. Everything is a fascination, and there is so much delight and joy in her as she experiences life. What she wants is simple: to be with those she loves who so dearly love her, and to experience (and delight in) the wonder of life that is her world.

At what point will she be told that’s not good enough?

At what point will she internalize that ‘that’s not good enough’ is true?

The thought that there will come a day when that will be true fills me with profound sadness, because that is the day she will lose her life…the part that matters anyway. Because Zach is right (though I’ll be the first to admit this is a difficult truth to always internalize at every dark moment):

“Life is just really beautiful moments, one right after the other.”

If we ever lose that perspective, we risk losing — forfeiting — all the goodness, joy, hope, and love possible in this life.

For all my love for life (though not always love for the way my own life is going), for all the words of love, of hope, of encouragement…I tend to spend a lot of time on the theological dark side. Sin, evil, pain, suffering, death — what do these things mean within the parameters of a Christian worldview, what does God have to say about it, and how do theologians across the ages weigh in on the discussion? And there is a lot to be found on the subject, because the primary narrative of the Bible is not of children of light living in the glory of eternal light — the primary narrative of the Bible is God’s great rescue plan for broken humanity.

Please remember that the world didn’t start out as a place of light, it started as a place of darkness (see Genesis 1). It is, in-fact, impossible to know light without darkness. That’s not to say that the light does not exist without darkness, it is to say that it will not be noticed: for though the stars burn as brightly during the day as at night, their light is lost to us during the day because of the light of the sun.

Sometimes what makes a thing most noticeable is its deficiency.

“How does one suffering know so much about joy?”

Because amid suffering it becomes apparent that joy is the only thing that really matters. I frequently raid the theology section of a local used book shop, and was having a conversation Tuesday afternoon with the owner about my general distaste for the “heaven tourism” genre. It isn’t about whether I believe or disbelieve the accounts, it’s that I don’t find them relevant or important. I pointed to Philippians 1:21, and said that what interests me more are the books by the people who have wrestled with and internalized “to live is Christ, to die is gain” because they have faced death. It may or may not be a hard word or a hard sell to an eschatologist to say that I don’t give much thought to “what’s next,” but I don’t. I have deep enough Roman Catholic roots for God to be “allowed” to be mysterious. I know God keeps his promises. There are enough broad brush strokes in the Bible to understand the glory and benevolence of heaven without needing a tour map and itinerary. I have an eternity of “later” to think about “later,” what don’t have a lot of is “now.” A friend of mine presented the thought a few months ago that in-light of my trials, suffering, and constant illness this year she wished I could just sleep until 2014 (my reply to that can be found here). I wrote:
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Time is precious…

fleeting…

measured in breaths…

in sunrises and sunsets…

in grains of sand…

in waves on the shore.

It cannot be bottled, nor saved

nor kept, nor held —

only savored, cherished, remembered…or else merely regretted for its passing.

What Zach understood is that life — what we make of it, how we live, and how we die — is a matter of perspective. Whatever we go looking for in this life with intentionality — goodness or evil, hope or despair, joy or sorrow, beauty or wretchedness — we will find. One of the most profoundly affecting things I’ve ever done in my life was volunteer-visit hospice patients. Because hospice patients are a distinct group — a person has committed to not seeking further medical treatment for his or her terminal condition at that point — my various patients gave me the quiet gift of a very close view of death and dying. One thing I discovered first about hospice patients, but then chillingly realized applies to every single living human in my world, is this: absolutely everything about how a person lives his or her life and faces his or her death is tied to the question of whether or not he or she fears death.

Everything.

I have faced my own death many times, and have been called to be a part of the death and dying process of many pets and people. Now there are those who do not fear death who still fight it a little — e.g., what can be done to fight this cancer, do I have a chance? There is a line, however, in a certain type of patient that never makes it to hospice — the patient who fights to fight, even when fighting is of no practical use and destroys the possibility of living and dying with dignity, because their soul has no anchor but to this life and to this world. Realizing how these people lived long before they died, the quiet similarity I’ve noticed — especially among women — is that defying the aging process on all levels becomes a macabre obsession. The thing is though, in the time spent trying to defy aging and death (which, face it, our culture shoves down out throats) we actually surrender control of our lives — minute by minute, dollar by dollar — to that same distracting, dark spirit that steals our days by filling them with ephemeral things. Zach’s view was:

“Death is just another thing on the agenda, kinda. Yeah, it’s scary, but the only reason it’s scary is ’cause you don’t know what’s next or if there is a next. So it’s kinda like sittin’ in the dark. And so you can either choose to be freaking out in the dark and thinking, ‘okay, what’s out there?’ or you can just relax and fall asleep, and be happy and content with everything.”

And it’s by this view — in not “freaking out” but knowing to “relax” — that I know Zach did not fear death, he had a greater peace.

And one of the greatest graces that facing death — reckoning with Philippians 1:21 on a very personal level — is that it can teach you how to live.

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Zach knew this.

Because if a person can come to the place of peace to know “to die is gain,” it completely removes all distracting and self-serving, fear-related barriers to the “to live is Christ” portion of that verse.

Given his words:

“I want to be remembered as the kid who went down fighting…and didn’t really lose.”

and statements made this week by his family, following his death, Zach knew that too.

And its my own deep knowledge of the truth of that verse that brought me to the position I took with my friend who owns the book shop, because there are a lot of really wonderful and rich verses in the Bible to use as an anchor for life, but time and time again I keep coming back to Philippians 1:21.

It’s the ultimate win-win (which Zach also knew).

A pause to fly a little close to the earth with respect to joy and Philippians for any who might not be as deeply familiar with my favorite book in the Bible as I am (or as my pastor friend). Firstly, one of the most beautiful renderings of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi (i.e., Philippians) is to be found in The New Testament in Modern English by J.B. Phillips (click here to read it). And to read it (in any translation), one thing that is most striking about this epistle (“epistle” is the $10 word for “letter” in Bible-speak) is that it drips with hope and joy…sometimes on a nauseating level.

Seriously, read it…joy, encouragement, hope, love (and the most beautifully succinct passage on the incarnation of Christ is to be found in Chapter 2).

So what’s the story behind the writing of Philippians? Paul hints at it — he was in prison.

Prison?

Yeah, prison. He was chained to a guard 24/7 and used the opportunity to evangelize the guards. Prison — not much joy and hope to be found there. And yet? In Philippians we have one of the most beautiful books in the Bible coming out of the darkness and despair of unjust imprisonment written by a man who was eventually martyred.

“To live is Christ, to die is gain.”

Paul knew what Zach learned — life is too short and too precious to brood over unalterable injustices. In this broken world terrible things happen that we have no power to prevent or to change, but that doesn’t mean we have to swallow the poison and define our days by brokenness. The world was not created broken, it was created beautiful — God made it and saw that it was good. All the goodness didn’t drain out of the world at the fall — much goodness and beauty exists still, albeit imperfectly, and it’s up too us to seek it.

That’s how such sorrow and loss can shout hope and purpose — because sorrow and loss have a walk-on part in eternity for people of faith like Zach, they were not the main characters of Zach’s life, and they will have no part in things to come. Sorrow and loss certainly shaped and informed Zach’s last few years in this world, but by no means did it define him or his beautiful life.

“When we talk, Sunday after Sunday, that it is possible to have joy in all things, he shows it is possible.”

Yes, he shows it is possible, but he also doesn’t deny the bad days. What any who choose to find joy in all things will tell you, is that finding joy — and light…and hope — in profound darkness requires intentionality.

“So how can I put the wisdom of this life, with all its joy, hope, and courage into my life?”

Well that’s the answer, isn’t it: intentionality.

Please understand that finding the goodness, hope, joy and beauty in this broken world is not equivalent to turning off one’s brain and declaring that bad things and brokenness do not exist (“La, la, la — not listening!”) — they do, and they are just as real as all of the good and beautiful things. What intentionality means, is looking at all the good and all the bad, but choosing to honor the goodness of life as more important to value than the bad. It really is that simple…and yet it is so damnably easy to be distracted down the rabbit hole of despair.

Intentionality is no easy task, but it is possible for all. We don’t need to be some kind of super-saint sitting on top of a mountain contemplating life 24/7, it is perfectly possible to be intentional — each and every one of us — in everyday life. It does require a bit of contemplation.

Marginally connected to my application and acceptance to one of the best Jesuit universities on the West Coast U.S., last fall I started delving into the history of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) and their founder St. Ignatius of Loyola. I really like what Loyola had to say about much; his Spiritual Exercises (basically a month-long retreat), The Examen, and so many of his other spiritual disciplines are an amazing and simple way for everyday people to grow closer to God in a very practical way that — really — anyone can do. Ignatian Spirituality is one of the most practical approaches to conducting an interior life that I have found. And don’t think just because Loyola was a Roman Catholic, that this is somehow a “Catholic” thing and doesn’t apply to Protestants, it does. Ignatian Spirituality is a really great tool box for practical faith, and for more information I would recommend reading The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life by James Martin, SJ as a great place to start (he’s very readable and approachable and funny — this will not be a slog, Martin is great!).

Because one of the best ways I’ve found of being intentional about life is the Ignatian principle of finding God in all things — all things. There is a passage from the First week of the Spiritual Exercises that both inspires and challenges me. I’ve quoted it before, but I just keep coming back to it because it is so clear in what it teaches: come what may, our ultimate desire should be anything which enables us to best praise, revere, and serve God (which echoes the famous question/answer from the Shorter Catechism to The Westminster Confession of Faith: Q. 1. What is the chief end of man? / A. 1. Man’s Chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever). Loyola wrote:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

To be intentional to seek to lift up what is good and worthy (regardless of circumstances), to find God in all things (regardless of circumstances), and to desire what will best enable us to serve God (regardless of whether the circumstances that come of it are particularly comfortable or desirable to us) — that’s the secret to living a life of hope and joy and courage. Embrace today, it’s the only “today” you’re going to get.

That is what Zach knew.

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Sylmar hill walk. Sylmar, CA. 8 MAR 2013.

And so Zach journeys on without us, and we sojourn here without him. I immediately thought of the Mr. Rogers quotation when I started writing this post:

“If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you many never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you will leave at every meeting with another person.” — Fred Rogers

because whether Zach knew it or not, we know it of his beautiful life. It is a challenge to us, however — for if we leave something of ourselves with all we meet and in the lives of all we touch, what are we leaving? It cuts both ways — positive and negative. Seek to be intentional that what you leave is positive (as Zach did).

Blessings – VKS

Post-script: I’ve been intermittently watching Zach’s video “Clouds” on YouTube all week as I’ve been writing this (always makes me cry):

A double portion?

A double portion?

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I don’t know if you’ve ever had one of those phone conversations where you can hear the tears, the pain, the fact that the person on the other end of the phone is going to go cry when this conversation is over.

I have.

The worst is when you know that something you said in your own pain is what is causing the tears and the frustration on the other end of the line.

As this is a pretty public domain, I dare not say too much that might be midconstrued as instability in any way, but it’s been a hellishly rough year thus far.  Lose your car, your job, your freedom, your independence, your future, and your right arm (along with half a pizza) in a puff of airbag dust sometime, it isn’t the best way to spend an afternoon.

But then, really, any afternoon that begins with a car crash, followed by screaming in pain in Spanish like a crazy woman while in the middle of a busy intersection, all in your pajamas in-front of two totaled cars?  That afternoon probably isn’t going to end well.

(And the pizza thing is probably going to tick me off forever)

I love life, I just don’t happen to love my life right now.

I remarked variously that the one thing I’m looking forward to the most about heaven is that I won’t have to move anymore.  I tell you what, the constant moving rented rooms can bring has really made me a lot softer on the Israelites who left Egypt, took one look at their new life, and decided to cop the “This is insane, let’s go back to Egypt!” attitude.  I get it — better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.

I just don’t have what it takes to Lone Ranger it through life, but there are various dear saints in my life among my friends who want St. Val to make it. I count them dear and precious and belovèd, even as I can’t think as well of myself as they do.
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For more than half my life, the words of a dear friend have helped drive me…tearful, frustrated, “Don’t you get it, please don’t do this” kind of words and haunt me still. Her words were what I was being completely selfish, and that if I didn’t want my life, to give it to her.

I’ve long been mindful of that conversation, and challenged by it.

But here’s the thing…

Last year I found out that friend died over ten years ago (which explains a lot). That news sent me for a loop, because it is at that point when “eternally separated from God” starts to mean something very, very, very dark.

A similar level of desperation that led to the conversation where my friend spoke those words seventeen years ago slsmmed me hard last Friday afternoon. And what occurs to me this morning is that my friend is not here to speak those desperate words to me now…or ever…because she is gone.

I can’t give her my life, she is gone…forever.

Which poses an interesting question — one for which I don’t actually have an answer:

Am I released from my obligation of giving my life to her because she is gone, or am I now bound with a double-portion of embracing life/living/giving/serving/loving because she can no longer carry her own torch?

I have no answers to this.

Her life was hard-fought and hard-lived, very broken, very lonely…but not without love and joy. A different friend remarked to me back in 2009 (when everything about my life blew up when the economy melted down) that one of the things that amazed her most about me was that — in-spite of everything — I could still love.

I think my very much missed, gone forever friend was the one who taught me how that could work: what does it look like to live a life with room for love when — by all rights — all capacity for love in your soul should have been beaten out of you years ago?

Do I now hold a cup full of a double portion of life — my own, plus the life she didn’t get to finish?

I am thinking about this…