“We Are Singing For Our Lives”

Set to Holly Near’s We Are Singing For Our Lives are the sights of my experience at General Conference.  Holly’s song became a balm for our souls as we marched across the Convention Center floor.

Being the Church

I volunteered to share my impressions and experiences at General Conference because as a volunteer and first time attendee I thought I might be able to offer a perspective other than that of an experienced delegate. I am here as a volunteer for the Love Your Neighbor Coalition which operates under the Methodist Federation for Social Action.  The Love Your Neighbor Coalition has thirteen partner members that have agreed to work together around the intersections of common justice issues and shared values. Please click on the links provided to find more information about the important work being done by all of the volunteers here.

My role as a hospitality volunteer has been to help feed the volunteers and to be a witness in support of full inclusion of all people within the United Methodist Church regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, to bring awareness to issues affecting our climate, to shed a light on the injustices faced by immigrants in this country, and to raise awareness of the complexities that stand in the way of peace in Israel and Palestine. It is a privilege to be here for this time to help with this work, but today I was privileged to witness something all together different than what I thought I was here to do.

I was coming downstairs from my room when I met a daughter in the elevator. She had just left her mother in the lobby and was heading to the parking garage with their bags. She appeared to be concerned and I asked if she was okay and she told me that she and her mother were on their way to the hospital to remove her brother from life support, before I could reply in any way the elevator door closed and she was gone. I turned towards the lobby and saw her mother walking out the door to the parking lot and I turned to go to her. The next thing I knew I was on my way to the hospital with them. What I did know in that moment was that God needed me to be there for this family and that I couldn’t let this woman say goodbye to her son without someone there to pray for him.

I knew that here in this place where we are all working so hard to create a church that loves the world the way we feel God wants us to, here was a family in need of a church to share God’s love. This was not about legislation, or judicial councils, this was about sharing God’s love when it was needed most. This was not about protests or vigils, this was not about who is right or who is wrong, this was about life and love and how we are the beloved children of a forgiving and resurrected God, and as those people we are called to share that good news with the people we come in contact with every day.

In the end it was not anything that I was able to do for this family that blessed them but it was the privilege that they gave to me in allowing me to be present for their goodbye that blessed me. The honor of being in the room when someone is born or when someone dies will never become routine to me, for it is in these moments that we are closest to God, and it is in these moments that God touches our hearts.

Why I am Here

Ho’oponopono: A Good Goodbye

Ho’oponopono: An ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness can teach us to have a good goodbye.

What is Ho’oponopono? It is four meditations, processes, or steps on the journey, if you will, of life and of death. Why do I say both life and death? Because death is ultimately about our life. The four steps sound very simple but like anything they are not as straightforward as we might hope.
  1. I’m Sorry
  2. I forgive you
  3. I Thank You
  4. I Love You

When do we have to say these words? Whenever life transitions take place. Young people must go through these steps when they mature into self-actualized adults and leave home and wish to have adult relationships with their parents. Parents must say these things to their children to accept them as fully grown adults with the rights and responsibilities to make their own decisions and live with the consequences of whatever decisions they may make. Adults go through these steps whenever they make major transitions in their lives, new jobs, new relationships, new communities to live in; all involve saying goodbye to what was before. Any time a relationship comes to an end, or changes from what it once was to what it will become we need to work through these things.

If parents are going to continue to be parents in the case of a divorce they need to say these things. They may not need to say them aloud to each other (although that wouldn’t hurt) but they need to process them none the less. 1) I’m sorry and 2) I forgive you  are vital if parents are going to continue being parents after a divorce. There simply comes a time when the adults must act like adults and remember that to put the children first and that means taking ownership that in every divorce there are two imperfect people who tried to make something work that did not work so both people need to say they are sorry and both people need to forgive, even if they never verbalize the words the feelings have to happen. The third and fourth phrases are also just as important 3) I thank you for trying to live the happy ending with me and even though it didn’t work I thank you for who you have been in my life. That might seem like a lofty thing to say to someone who has hurt you or betrayed you but at one point in your life you thought you were going to love this person for the rest of your life, right? 4) I love you, yes speaking about loving someone for the rest of their life, in most divorces that I have been familiar with there is some element to the idea that you will forever love this person in some way. Maybe it only goes as far as you don’t wish them to get hit by a bus but something inside you cares about their well being.

Aside from these times of transitions we need to say these things when someone is dying, when we are dying, or when someone we love has died. A person with a terminal diagnosis is grieving the loss of their own life and if time allows for peacemaking the final months, weeks, days of life can be a time of healing. When you are intentional in your life you say these things to the people you love every day of your life and therefore there is no incompleteness. If a life is cut short unexpectedly the loved ones of that person must work through these phrases. Love, gratitude, forgiveness and for anything we may have done that hurt our loved ones can be everyday practices that we incorporate into our lives so that we can live a life free from regret.

When my Mother was diagnosed with Stage four terminal lung cancer that has metastasized to her brain we were in shock but we had options and we had fifteen months to work through the four sentiments. We had a good goodbye. When my husband went from the picture of health in the morning to coding in the emergency room in my arms that night we had no goodbye, but yet I still had to work my way through each of these four sentiments on my own in varying ways. Almost two years after his death I am still working through these things. Grief knows no timeline and follows no calendar it is simply part of your being and you never return to the person you were before your loved one died, you become a different person every time you say goodbye.

I don’t mean to say that these four things are the only things that need to be expressed when facing the loss of a loved one, there indeed may be other things that we may want to say. What I am saying is that these things are necessary components to all goodbyes in life; growing up, graduating and leaving an academic community, breaking up with a companion or lover, changing jobs or retiring, dying or losing a loved one to death. If we make a practice of living our days as if we have no more days to live then we indeed might forgive and seek forgiveness more often, we might live with more gratitude in our hearts, and we might learn to love our neighbors and we might also learn to love ourselves in the process.

Broken and Vulnerable

Extrovert’s and Grief; Yes Some Things are Different

A quick list to highlight the tough stuff about grieving for those on the extroverted end of the spectrum

 

 You know grief is challenging your extroverted nature when;

  • You are quiet or don’t make eye contact for more than 12 seconds and everyone around you is asking, “What’s wrong?

  • You desperately want to hang out with your friends, but no one is calling because they assume you want ‘alone time’ after your loss.

  • You decide to go out, because you know it will help your mood, then feel guilty you went out because maybe your friends are right, you should want alone time.  

  • When you decide to take some alone time with your grief it is so unusual that your friends and family panic that you have spiraled into a bottomless pit of despair.

  • Talking about your emotions and the person you love is helpful to you, but it makes the people around you SUPER uncomfortable.

  • You keep excessively busy doing things and spending time with other people, only to realize what looked like healthy coping was actually avoidance.

  • When your grief group ends you desperately want everyone to stay in touch and are shocked when not everyone is on board with a grief happy hour.

  • You share your feelings, memories, and grief all over social media.Some other people think it’s creepy.

  • People around you think you are fine because you are out and about. You know you’re not fine.

  • You were already a bit more impulsive than you introverted besties, and now you’re unbelievably close to quitting your job, selling your house and moving to Bora Bora.

  • You see someone reading ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ on the subway and you can’t help but casually interrupt them to share that you read it too, right after your husband died.

  • People keep telling you that you need to take care of yourself and contemplate the deep impact of your loss, because they assume you can’t possibly be self-reflective or introspective.

So what can you do if you are an extrovert to help yourself?

  • Give yourself permission to go out and be with people.  It is not something to feel guilty about and can really help in your healing.

  • Plan for some alone time.  That may not always come as naturally, but time to write, journal, meditate, and be with your thoughts can be very important.  Carve out the time, even if it isn’t easy.

  • Tell your friends what you need.  What you perceive as them avoiding you may be them trying to give you space that they assume you want or need.  Let them know calls, texts, and get-togethers are appreciated.

  • Don’t fool yourself into thinking that keeping busy=healthy grief.

Adapted from http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/ written by Eleanor and Litsa

For more valuable information on grief and grieving visit http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/

 

 

Leaving a Legacy

They say that a person dies three times; the first time when their heart stops beating, the second when they are buried or cremated, and the third time when their name is no longer spoken.

We all want to be remembered. We all want to leave behind a legacy.

When someone knows that they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness they begin to think of what their friends and loved oves will remember about them when they are gone. My husband did not have this luxury. Donald died in less than a day. He woke up healthy and vital and before the next sunrise he was gone.

We had no goodbye.

Maybe that is why it is so important to me that his story be told, because to tell his story, is to keep him alive,

Donald fell in love with Drew almost as much as he fell in love with me. We lived on the campus,Drew Gate a scenic, serene, and at times breathtaking one hundred and eighty seven acre oak forest preserve. We walked hand in hand from Seminary Hall to the student center, the library, the bookstore, the mailroom, the undergraduate “Brothers” college, and the United Methodist Archives.Our dorm room apartment was three hundred and fifty square feet including the three square feet that housed the shower, when I say it was small I don’t mean that it wasn’t spacious I mean it was miniscule. The playgroundPlayground was outside our windows and every afternoon we would be serenaded by the laughter and cries of the many toddlers and children that enriched our life there. Donald knew the name and purpose of every building on the campus and he loved giving visitors a tour.

We made the most of our time at Drew in every way we could. Lunches and dinners in the Student Center, with the undergraduates that graced our lives by sharing their lives with us, quickly became one of our favorite activities. Musical productions in the Performance Center allowed us to experience operas, comedy, plays and classical performances by just sharing our Drew I.D. cards. Donald went to all of the sporting events held at the university, he wrote in his journal about the baseball games and lacrosse matches, he went to the tennis tournaments and swim meets, his enjoyment of the sports at Drew was so complete he never once mentioned bringing our television out of storage where it sat ignored until I finally gave it away not long ago. Lectures made possible by the Drew Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies allowed us to meet speakers that we could have never met on our own. Educational programs put on by the Undergraduate Student Groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine opened our eyes and our hearts to a part of the world we knew very little about. Dinners in our tiny dormTipple Hall with fellow classmates from places like Tanzania, Burma, Mexico, Puerto Rico, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa and South Korea widened our world view in ways that were never possible before we came there. When I say we showed our I.D. cards I mean we were both students. Donald enrolled at Drew as a Community Fellow in the Lifelong Learning Program. He audited classes right alongside me so that when my education was complete he would not be uninformed.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not mention what Donald loved most about Drew and that was Chapel. We have Chapel services three times a week at Drew and Donald attended every service he could. Many times he would attend Chapel on his own because I would be working on an assignment or paper. He wrote in his journal more often about Chapel than any other topic. He would record who the guest preacher was and how the service filled his soul. He loved the Black Ministerial Caucus Chapel services best of all. He wrote that we “the white church” need more JOY in our celebrations!

Donald had grown up in the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church had always been a place of welcome and acceptance for Donald, something he had not always found at home. Donald and I met at our church and it was at church that we deepened our connection to each other and to God. Giving back to the church by supporting Drew Seminarians was something Donald did during his life at Drew so deciding to support Drew Seminarians in Donald’s memory was a natural decision for me. The Donald K Baxter Prize for Community Engagement will be awarded for the first time on April 20th, 2016. The prize will go to a student who is graduating from the Theological School who has made the most of their time at Drew by engaging in the wider University Community in much the same way that Donald did during his time at Drew. The prize will be awarded annually in perpetuity. My deepest gratitude is extended to the staff of the Alumni Relations Department at Drew for helping me honor Donald in this way. I know that he will be smiling above us when the prize is awarded.

They say a person dies three times; the first time when their heart stops beating, the second when they are buried or cremated, and the third time when their name is no longer spoken.My gratitude goes with this prize for assuring that Donald’s name will continue to be spoken.

 

 

Thoughts of Hope From a New Widow

Nearly four years after beginning my journey in Seminary it has come time to stand and preach my Senior Sermon at Drew Theological School in Madison NJ. Preparing for this day has been something of a roller coaster to say the least. The joy of falling in love during my first semester and the amazing love that relationship brought into my existence coupled with the nearly life ending pain of losing my husband less than eight months after our wedding have changed me in ways I cannot regret. To do it all again I would make the same decisions all over again.

To love is to risk and to live is to love, life is a terminal condition and no one leaves this life alive. If we are to fully embrace this one precious life we have we will risk the pain of grief by exposing our heart to love. It is simply the only way.

My Constant Companions
Thoughts of hope from a New Widow by Christine J Baxter

Sadness you don’t own me

        No matter how you try

Sorrow you cannot defeat me

        No matter how you try

Grief you will not drown me

        No matter how you try

Pain you will not kill me

        No matter how you try

Joy you live within me

        I welcome you in

Love you can flow through me

        I welcome you in

Peace you can surround me

        I welcome you in

Grace you may walk with me

        I welcome you in

Survival you have found me

        Because I welcomed you in.

 

Feed Shark

My Husband’s Collection of Quotes II

I have read “Delicious Ambiguity” almost daily now for the last few months. I don’t think that reading it any longer will change my feelings about it. Life is ambiguous, life is fragile, life is fleeting, and indeed life is delicious, life is exhilarating, and life is passion and love. Finding the deliciousness in the ambiguity of life is something I admire Gilda Radner for, it speaks to what an incredible woman she was. I wonder if she was able to embrace the ambiguity of life because she knew she would not be the loved one left behind?

It is time for a new quote and so I have pulled out my husband’s little pile of carefully hand cut pieces of paper each with a quote on them and each dotted with thumbtack holes from being posted to the walls of his office cubicle and I read the next quote.

Plenty of people miss their share of happiness, not because they never found it, but because they didn’t stop to enjoy it

                                   William Feather
Twentieth Century American Author and Publisher.

What I can tell you about my husband and I is this; we always stopped to enjoy our life together. We were intentional about every moment we spent together. We never once took our love for granted. We had both lived long enough to appreciate the fact that we had been given this opportunity to experience life , love, learning, and laughter that we always made the most of each day. Never once would we have dreamed we would only have such a short time together but at the same time we lived each day as if there were no tomorrows.

I can’t really explain all of the reasons why we had this attitude about living but much of it had to do with the fact that we had both experienced great losses in our lives and we knew how precious life was. What I can explain to you is that because we choose to live each day this way, I have no regrets. I will never look back and say “If only we had taken the time to….” because we did take the time for each other. We did tell each other how much we meant to one another, we did spend time with the people who loved us and we them.

Maybe that is where the deliciousness comes in, we savored our lives together and we enjoyed every precious moment we were given. So that is my wish for you when you read this; savor your life, your love, your passions, your family, your friends. Savor each moment you are granted here in this world before you are called upon to journey into the next world, because you never know when someone’s journey will end and you may never get to say the things you think you can say tomorrow.

Tomorrow is not promised to anyone, make today a gift you give to yourself.

 

 

An Invitation to Abundant Life

Lenten Devotion for February 28th

A Lenten Devotional written for the Love Your Neighbor Coalition

Isaiah 55:1-9

 An Invitation to Abundant Life
55 Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
6 Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
7 let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Buy wine and milk for free, come and be quenched without cost? This does not describe a time of deprivation; this is not calling us to deny ourselves.  This is the prophet calling us into an abundant relationship with our creator! Calling us to rich food and telling us to live life, calling us to return to the one who knit us together in our Mother’s womb and created us exactly the way we are. Reminding us of the covenantal relationship we have with God. Reminding us of the promises of that covenant; relationship with God is rich, and satisfying, it gives us direction when we are lost, and  it is thirst quenching in such a way that we will never thirst again for that which will not satisfy us.

When I read this passage I think back over the times in my life when I was the most confused about my direction in life and I realize that in all of those times of uncertainty God has always revealed direction to me. They say hindsight is 20/20 right? But it is when I look back over the course of my life and I see how time and time again God has provided; direction, resources, mentors, and peace with my path, that I can reassure myself now that God will continue to provide.

Seek God and God will show you the way in which you should travel. Listen for God and God will tell you the things you need to know. Reach for God and you will find the arms of comfort and acceptance waiting for you. Return to God and you will find the reassurance and pardon that your heart has been seeking. Take this time of Lent and renew your relationship with your creator because God’s ways are not the ways of ours, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and the way of Heaven is not the way of the Earth.

 

Prayer: Oh Glorious and gracious God. How can I conceive of your forgiveness and mercy, how can I fathom the plans you have for me? Hold me in your comforting arms, help me hear your voice and listen to your direction when I am floundering. Guide me as I journey through this season and open my heart and mind and will to learn what it is you need to teach me. I ask this humbly of you my Creator, my Sustainer and my Redeemer. Amen.

Question: What have been the times in your life that you have had to wait for God’s guidance and when you did feel called in a new direction in life what did it feel like to follow? Are you in a season of following or listening this Lent?

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