Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Mother's Walk through Grief

Recently I had the privilege of visiting with Leslie McCullough. Leslie’s sixteen year old son Connor died last month after a seven month battle with cancer. I knew from her Caring Bridge posts that Leslie and her family were fortified by a remarkable faith. Many of the insights she shared with me about her life are worthy of reflection, and I hope to be able to continue to share those through posts on the blog. As Lent is coming to a close, I felt her most recent entry was so inspirational that I am sharing the majority of it. It inspires me to strive to carry my own crosses with an eye on glorifying God and I am confident all who have the opportunity to meditate on Leslie’s words will be inspired as well.

Leslie’s Caring Bridge Post on March 11, 2012:

Dear Friends-

Not sure if this will reach many of you or not. It has been three weeks since Connor went to his heavenly home. We have been trying to get details taken care of such as death certificates, cancelling cell phone accounts, reminder notices for 6 month dental appointments that need to be cancelled, etc. etc. Each time we take Connor’s name off of something it is a painful reminder that we will not have a chance to enjoy any more time with him here in this life. We all have what we have come to refer to as “Connor moments” where tears will come seemingly out of nowhere. (A special thanks to the Sprint Customer service rep who waited for me to compose myself as I could barely get the words out that I would be needing to cancel Connor’s cell phone account. He loved texting friends before and all through the time of his illness. His sticky fingerprints are still on the screen of the phone from the evening right before he had the seizure…) But those moments also provide another opportunity to look forward to the life ahead with him in Heaven and thank God for that blessed hope.

Meanwhile there are tasks here to be accomplished by those of us that remain and we press on. It is not a denial of the grief that we all feel so deeply, but a recognition that we have a solemn duty to move forward and serve God well with the time we have left. Just before my mother passed away 16 years ago, she gave me her Bible and a devotional book, Streams in the Desert, written in 1925. I have read it occasionally throughout the years since her death but not regularly. I happened (actually the Holy Spirit directed me) to see it on the table today and I picked it up to read the entry for today, March 11. I was amazed at how it expressed what I had been feeling these last couple of weeks. While knowing that there is a need to grieve, I also felt very keenly that it is a slippery slope and that if I was not careful, grief like quicksand could pull me under. So what is the balance? How do we as Christians, who are not to grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13), deal with our grief? I was inspired by what J.R Miller wrote in this selection and wanted to share it. We lost a soldier in this battle we call life--a strong, brave, talented, and beautiful son whom we loved and still love dearly. But what must we do now to honor him and more importantly to honor the God he served and that we still live to serve?

March 11 (Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles C. Cowman)

“Now it came to pass after the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, that the Lord spoke unto Joshua, the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying, Moses my servant is dead; now, therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou and all this people.” (Josh.1:1-2)

“Sorrow came to you yesterday, and emptied your home. Your first impulse now is to give up, and sit down in despair amid the wrecks of your hopes. But you dare not do it. You are in the line of battle, and the crisis is at hand. To falter a moment would be to imperil some holy interest. Other lives would be harmed by your pausing, holy interests would suffer, should your hands be folded. You must not linger even to indulge your grief.

A distinguished general related this pathetic incident of his own experience in time of war. The general’s son was a lieutenant of battery. An assault was in progress. The father was leading his division in a charge; as he pressed on in the field, suddenly his eye was caught by the sight of a dead battery-officer lying just before him. One glance showed him it was his own son. His fatherly impulse was to stop beside the loved form and give vent to his grief, but the duty of the moment demanded that he should press on in the charge; so quickly snatching one hot kiss from the dead lips, he hastened away, leading his command in the assault.

Weeping inconsolably beside a grave can never give back love’s banished treasure, nor can any blessing come out of such sadness. Sorrow makes deep scars; it writes its record ineffaceably on the heart which suffers. We really never get over our great griefs; we are never altogether the same after we have passed through them as we were before. Yet there is a humanizing and fertilizing influence in sorrow which has been rightly accepted and cheerfully borne. Indeed, they are poor who have never suffered, and have none of sorrow’s marks upon them. The joy set before us should shine upon our grief as the sun shines through the clouds, glorifying them. God has so ordered, that in pressing on in a duty we shall find the truest, richest comfort for ourselves. Sitting down to brood over our sorrows, the darkness deepens about us and creeps into our hearts, our strength changes to weakness. But if we turn away from the gloom, and take up the tasks and duties to which God calls us, the light will come again and we shall grow stronger.” -- J.R. Miller

I hope this reflection is an encouragement to each of your hearts, those of you who have prayed for us, grieved with us, and cared for us in so many ways. Let us continue to encourage one another to run our individual races with strength, courage, and faith and when our earthly journeys are over, to arrive in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and hear the precious words, Well done, good and faithful servant, because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” (Matthew 25:21)

Blessings now and forever…Leslie McCullough

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Another Muse Bites the Dust

Spring is poking its blustery head out in a big way this week, so hat- wearers are facing a challenge. Beaver hats fair well against the wind and they  aren’t entirely uncommon, if you live in Wyoming. I lived there for a while and yes, I own a beaver hat. Very Daniel Boone, a great addition to the costume box, and practical in a state where fifty and sixty mile an hour winds are common place.  However it is entirely unlikely to see one prominently displayed on the head of a middle aged woman in Overland Park, KS as she enjoys a mid-morning walk with friends.

 So as I approached these pedestrians, this woman caught my eye from a distance. She was walking in the middle, a step in front of her comrades. Dressed in black, only the beaver hat caught my attention; I would have done a double take, but I was crossing an intersection and my mind immediately went into muse overdrive. Who would wear a beaver hat in Kansas, on a sixty degree day in March, in public for heaven’s sake? The possibilities swarmed through my mind. Maybe, like me, she’d lived in Wyoming and knew to approach the wind as a worthy adversary. No pesky spring blast would be blowing this baby off her head, it was genuine beaver.   Instinctively, I liked this woman. 

 As we approached each other, me in my mini- van, she leading her posse of beaver hat wearing “wanna-be’s”, I realized I was mistaken -- foiled once again by the wind.  Her chin length, layered, highlighted,  perhaps streaked, - or let’s just call a spade a spade,  - her black and beige striped hair was blowing up and around her head, with the longer back section forming a tail.

She was oblivious to the “beaver hat” apparition hovering over her as she marched up the sidewalk. I was crest fallen; a perfectly good muse, gone with the wind. A mere gust of inspiration, vanquished with one brief inkling of reality.  Such are the woes of the creative writer. 

I find myself challenged recently with many acquaintances who’ve done a drive by inspection of God and organized Christian religions and decided they didn’t like what they saw. No second glance necessary. No effort to actually learn theology or biblical teachings. They thought they saw a beaver hat whether it made sense or not. Something related to God made them feel bad, and that was it. The mere mention of God, the bible or the Catholic Church can send them into an emotional tail spin. And their beaver hat of choice is tolerance. They hate Christians because they are intolerant. They hate the Catholic Church for the same reason. Too bad they never checked the label on that beaver hat, because lasted time I checked tolerance and hatred couldn’t be worn together.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Satan Behaving Badly

            Why do we write? It’s a mystery, this compulsion to share stories. I’m once again participating in a creative writing workshop at the junior college. Its enjoyable, frustrating and tedious. Reviewing manuscripts of my fellow classmates always presents a challenge and a wealth of comic material. Not to insult their work; it is often very good and enjoyable to read. But the class discussion does illustrate this reality: each of us wakes up every day and we walk out into the same city, speak the same language and see a vastly different and unique world.
            In past classes I have been the only Christian, or I should say writer that chooses to include an element of my Christian beliefs into my work. I go in knowing my work will receive an emotional reaction. The mere mention of a priest, prayer or female bible study leader will set many readers down a path of deeply rooted “gut reaction” that has little to do with my actual plot. I have witnessed characters from science fiction novels who torture and murder their victims receive a more favorable reaction than one of my Christian female characters who has an unkind thought. Our feelings about religion, negative or positive, strike a sensitive nerve.
            This semester, my manuscript is number eleven on the docket. We review four a week in the three hour class period. The first week, I was surprised to receive a manuscript with a biblical reference in the title. It was a very well written short story, with even a fairly long passage where the character read the bible passage to her Sunday school class. Unfortunately the message meant nothing, to either the characters or the plot. I was unsatisfied with the story, because it was so well written and had so much potential, but ultimately left me with a cast of shallow characters who I didn’t care about. I didn't connect with them because they didn’t seem to care about themselves, or each other, or their faith. Waste of a perfectly good bible metaphor if you ask me.
            Week two presented me with an even bigger challenge. The manuscript once again was technically well written. It was the opening prologue of the second novel in a trilogy. The opening point of view character was Satan. Interesting premise, however this Satan was a bit neurotic and far too human to represent the source of all evil I am familiar with in the bible. At one point, Satan is having a flashback to a confrontation with Michael the Archangel and he states that he “behaved badly”. Seriously?!? Does Satan behaving badly mean he was inadvertently kind, perhaps he held the celestial gates open for Michael or offered him a cup of tea? Who knows, but in speaking with the author I did learn that he is aware his portrayal of biblical figures is not scriptural and he doesn’t care. It is just a story to him, and these are just dramatic characters.
            No one else in the class had a problem with that because no else saw God as real either. The bible is just good literature. It can be pillaged at will and no one cares. I posed the point to my fellow classmate, an atheist, that if I met your mother and decided she would be a great character, would it be fine for me to use her name, and fictionalize her, using only the shreds of truth about her life I found appealing? “Of course not, she is a real person” was my classmate’s response.
            God is very real to me, as are Satan and Michael the Archangel. Jesus Christ is “the Word made flesh who dwelt among us”. John 1:14   It is offensive to me when they are portrayed inaccurately. Moreover, I believe it is dangerous. Most people will accept fiction as gospel truth without ever reading the bible or any credible theological work. Ignorance is bliss. This week my manuscript is up for review. It’s a humbling process, but ultimately it promotes my growth as an author. I’m praying most of all to stay true to my faith beliefs and that nothing I write would lead others away from Christ.