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Ruth: Such Joy and Such Sadness

June 17, 2018 22 comments

On May 28th, my dear Ruth died. We were betrothed to be married June 23rd, 2018. This is the first I have been able to write about it and am doing so from Tofino where I have come away on a retreat with my fiend Wayman.

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I had just landed in Sacramento CA for a meeting when my phone rang and I was told that Ruth was in the hospital and they have identified cancer in her ribs, back, hip, lungs and liver. There was no treatment plan possible and Ruth was being put directly into palliative care.  This was just one month and two days before we were to be wed in a beautiful service we planned on Keats Island surrounded by our family and a few close friends.

As God would have it Cam Roxborough, a long-time friend, happened to be right there, at that time, in the same airport and he asked me if everything was okay? With tears I said “No” and told him of Ruth’s diagnosis. We stood praying together by the baggage carousels and that began a new journey for me, but one I was all too familiar with because of walking with my wife Brenda just years earlier.

The blog I wrote just prior to this one is called “Beautiful Story.” Ruth and I used this as a means of announcing our relationship. Inspired by the song of the same title written by Mia Fieldes, it proclaimed how God was in the background of our lives orchestrating every detail and customizing it for our lives.

This seemed so true for Ruth and I for in very different ways we needed each other, and it was perfect. Our love had made us like giddy teenagers yet we were inspired by a maturity in our faith that filled us with dreams of how God was going to use us together for his Kingdom.

Little did I consider, if at all, that now I would have to accept that God had been in the background orchestrating a story that did not end as we had presumed. At one-point Ruth was alone with me in the hospital room and tears were rolling down from her beautiful eyes. She asked me, “What is happening?”

“Dear, your body is shutting down” I shared as tenderly as I could amidst my own tears.

“I know that” she replied, “I just thought that we would have much more time together.”

“Me too, me too” I said with my head resting on the side of her bed.

Irish Literature

Irish literature is well known for its disproportionate number of dark tales involving personal struggles and the supernatural. Perhaps because of my background I feel trapped in this presently. We tend to like stories with happy endings – this is not one for me.

Many people around me keep saying that this just isn’t fair! Ruth’s death is not fair!

I get this feeling and it flits by in my thoughts but has not really landed. I wonder, why when our relationship was so perfect would she die before our dreams had really begun? With Ruth dying just three weeks before we were to be wed I feel personally slighted. I feel like a young child who has just been grounded saying “That’s not fair!”

You and I live in a society that is obsessed with ‘fairness’ but the application of fairness is actually quite subjective. The shadow side of ‘fairness’ and that is ‘selfishness’. In Matthew 20:10-12 Jesus shares a story of farmers who felt unfairly treated by the landowner. But Jesus in his narrative later says “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”

In my living room there is a copy of Rembrandt’s painting “The Prodigal”. As I look at it today I feel like I am the older brother standing in judgement over the father who is being entirely unfair in welcoming back the prodigal without as much as a penalty. What is ‘fair’ about that? Nothing. But it is an expression of God’s grace.

Just five days after Ruth’s death I sat around a fire with my sons and Martin Sanders from New York asking questions.

“Why would God allow love to form in me again only to have it separated by death?”

“If God desires that we flourish, where do I find that in this situation?

“If God is kind, where is kindness in this?”

“With all that we know about God, how does one make sense of Ruth’s death?”

God’s knows things that we do not. That is the only place I can land these questions. His sense of what is fair, and what is not fair, is beyond human understanding. While intellectually and in faith I can say this, it is not very satisfying in my grief. It has caused for me a serious reconsideration of what I consider to be fair.

Grace

Grace is the only thing that is giving me perspective on all this. As I shared at Ruth’s service, despite the tragedy of this seeming to destroy a beautiful story, we can experience a constant dripping of God’s grace into our lives just like the IV bag was dripping fluids into Ruth in her last days.

If God were ‘fair’ with us then he would not have Jesus die on the cross in payment for our sin. He would not be here walking with me every day helping me get through this and bringing whatever strength I have. He would not have provided me with family and friends who have surrounded me with love and call to check on my well-being or ask hard questions about whether I am feeling suicidal in any way (a question we should be more open to asking those close to us who are hurting).

God’s grace transcends fairness. Grace extends a hand of forgiveness to me every time I mess up and offers his Spirit as a tender comforter to me amidst the stinging heart ache that I suffer.

The pain for me is still severe, but there are some blessings I am beginning to count as I seek beyond my own selfishness. I have a new extended family. Despite not being married, I have become family to Ruth’s children and family and we can walk together through this time of grief.

My own children and grandchildren have gone through much and experienced significant loss in their lives. Yet I see a maturity in them that inspires me. They cling to each other, and to God, and offer themselves to serve others who are experiencing pain and loss.

Even being able to identify some blessings is a part of God’s grace. I recall anew Brenda’s expressed desire for me to continue sharing the gospel of grace after she was to pass, so consider this a little drip of grace for you. I will write more as I process and when I can.

Today I began a new season of mourning. I know the importance of this from our families grief journey over Brenda’s death. We need to mourn for a season. If we don’t mourn it is too easy to stay stuck in anger, pain, numbness and resentment.

There is a black band around my wrist as a marker of this season of mourning. Each time I glance at it I am reminded of my loss.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

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Beautiful Story

March 18, 2018 55 comments

BEAUTIFUL STORY

I have a beautiful story to share from my life about loss, redemption, and the expansive love of God.

LOSS

I have been in a season of great loss.

Today marks 1537 days since Brenda was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, and 949 since she passed through. Brenda prepared us well as a family for her death, yet we have learned much since then. Together we have learned:

  • That grief does not necessarily get easier as time passes.
  • Embracing the full reality of the death cannot, and should not, occur quickly.
  • Some days the full depth of your loss will hit you.
  • Your personal faith as a Christian can have a tremendous impact on your journey with grief.
  • Even if you have faith in God, you still need to mourn.
  • With hurt comes healing.

Mourning is the outward expression of your many thoughts and feelings regarding the person who has died. In my case, this was Brenda, my wife, soulmate, best friend, and companion of thirty-nine years. I have been mourning and am not finished yet, nor feel compelled to hurry it along.

As follower of Jesus for many years and a leader amongst pastors and ministry people, I knew that I had a substantial foundation on which to stand for this next season of my life. Yet despite all this, I so longed for companionship. Most days I had come to believe that I would spend the rest of my life alone despite Brenda making it clear before she died that she wished for me to remarry.

REDEMPTION

In October, I sat in a quaint restaurant in a heritage home in Blowing Rock, North Carolina with my friends J John and Killy from the UK. They knew and loved Brenda deeply, but at that lunch felt called to pray over me regarding my desire for companionship. I had a similar response from my friends Rich and Debbie in Charlotte on the same trip.

On my return from North Carolina, I was speaking for a Young Adult conference that was held at Barnabas on Keats Island. This is a very special place for our family and has been for years. Arrow Leadership uses it as one of its prime locations for classes, and I have been going there for years.

barnabasBrenda and I prayed for the vision of Barnabas before it existed at this location, and I have been friends with Rob and Kathy Bentall, the founders, for decades. It is a ‘thin place’ – a place that is sacred; where healing, teaching and inspiration take place year-round. After Brenda’s death we decided as a family to support Barnabas by sponsoring one of the bedrooms in The Station, a new marquee building being built for teaching, dining, administration and some new bedroom accommodation. Though Brenda had travelled the world, she was quick to tell anyone that Barnabas was her favourite place on the planet. It seemed so right to us all that this would be a place of memorial for her.

KeatsLandingAt the end of the Young Adult Retreat I was transported to the Government Wharf with all the guests to make our boat ride back to the mainland off this beautiful island. At the top of the ramp I paused to give a hug to Rob and Kathy, and then to Rob’s sister, Ruth, who had facilitated the retreat.

When I hugged Ruth, I felt an electrical shock surge through my shoulders and back that made me step back.

“What just happened?” I thought to myself while trying to remain calm in front of all the people.

I’ve known Ruth for decades. We have done ministry side by side at Barnabas conferences, and consider her a friend, although we do not see each other all that often. All of my sons have worked for Ruth in their younger years at Barnabas.

When my boat started to leave, I kept wondering “What just happened?”. This did not go away and finally I got up the courage to text message Ruth. I wanted to give myself lots of wiggle room so I asked her, “What just happened?”

Ruth replied, “I don’t know, but something happened! We should talk about it.”

Well, talk we did a week later, and we have been seeing each other and talking ever since. We spent time with our children seeking discernment. We sought wisdom of counsellors with expertise in second marriages. I went for a separate session to do a check on where I was at in my grief journey, to see if I was ready for a new relationship. I spoke to my closest friends about us when I realized that I was in love with Ruth, and she with me. As our counsellor said to us, there are no red flags, and we were both in a place of readiness for remarriage.

You have not heard much from me over the past months. It is because we intentionally have been quiet about our seeing one another. We needed the time and opportunity to know one another better without the pressures of our relationship circles – which are vast. Ruth and I have come to this new relationship out of deep loss. You are tender and cautious when you are in that space. Neither of us could have imagined this beautiful new relationship. God has been in the background orchestrating every detail. We are without words.

EXPANSIVE LOVE OF GOD

I spent time with my sons talking this all over. Ruth wisely reminded me that I was grieving the loss of Brenda, my wife, but my sons were grieving their mother and that was different. At one point one of my Sons asked a question about how all of this works. “How can you love Mom, and love Ruth?”

“Well,” I answered, “Remember when you first got married and how you thought love doesn’t get any better than this?”

“Yes” he acknowledged.

“Then Landon was born, your first son. Do you remember that moment when you first held him, and your love circle grew in capacity exponentially to include your baby?”

“Yeah I remember.”

“And then when you think that you simply could not love anymore, along comes your second son Liam and, oh my, the love expansion he brought to your life. You get the picture, it is one of an expansive love. I’m not sure exactly how this all works but I feel like God has given me that expansive kind of love for Ruth – while I still love your Mom. Your Mom will always be my first love.”

That was the best I could do at the time because I am still learning. When we love God, we’ll love others, because that’s the way real love works.  We’ll tell others of His love for them, because His love wants to draw others into that love.  We’ll delight in drawing others into our love, expanding our capacity, because that’s the way my God is, and His love working in us will affect us that way, too.

Well, in the spirit of this expansive love of God, and with the support of our families, and dear Brenda’s family, I knelt on one knee and asked Ruth if she would marry me. She said yes and we are planning to be married the end of June in a small intimate family wedding, on a small island in the Pacific. We look forward to leaning into how God is going to use our companionship and love, to further His ministry through us.

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Grieving and the Holidays: Canadian Thanksgiving

October 8, 2017 5 comments

 

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There are certain days for those who grieve that act like emotional land mines.

Thanksgiving is one such time for me. During this holiday, my emotions feel more intense than, on what I might call, normal days on the grief journey.

Thanksgiving was always a big family time growing up, and in our marriage. I have lovely memories of the joy Brenda had decorating the house for the season, and preparing for “her babies” to arrive for the big family dinner. This year, Thanksgiving converges with our wedding anniversary. This amplifies my emotions evoking moments of loneliness, sadness, despair and even anger.

The grief group I attended after Brenda’s death helped reiterate that all of these feelings are normal, though I would add, not pleasant. They taught that feelings are part of the process of grief and that we are to accept our feelings, whatever they may be, and not deny them or push them away. They also shared the importance of preparing before special days like holidays, anniversaries and birthdays. It is because we are used to associating the holidays with good times and our loved ones, so we will miss them all the more at these moments of the year.
Those of us on the grief journey must contemplate in advance what we are going to do, and who we are going to be with on these special days.

Brenda's MarkerSo, I have done some preparing. I have planned to spend quiet time at the cemetery giving thanks for our marriage and the incredible seasons of life that we lived together. I truly do thank God for those years and the memories. Brenda used to teach leaders “memories never depreciate and are worth investing in.” So true in my life right now.

There are other things such as having time to read my Bible, seeking both strength and comfort from the words found there. I attended a hockey game early in the morning to watch my eldest grandson play and receive the MVP trophy. Any time with my grandchildren always helps. Today, I went to church with Jeremy and Shari and Mac, Ellie and Georgia. In the afternoon I have arranged for gardening and supper with life friends who will surround me with love.

Then, on the holiday Monday, my family, all thirteen of us, will gather around the dining room as my “daughters” Kristin, Shari and Kirstie excitedly prepare and serve our traditional turkey feast. This gathering will provide time to identify where we are on our grief journey and express thanks for “Mom” and other things in our lives. As I mentioned, this would have been our 41st wedding anniversary. So, I am thankful that I will not be alone, but surrounded by those closest to me.

If you are grieving a loss, it is easy for these “special days” to sneak up on you, so be careful. You cannot eliminate the feelings, but you can prepare for them. I’ve been told that no matter how long it has been, you still carry a portion of your grief with you. That portion will be with you for the rest of your life. Emotions, you thought you had already dealt with, will come flooding back at unexpected times, but on these special days, you can anticipate. I’ve already begun to think and plan for Christmas.

When I am discouraged, or at a low point relating to my loss, the only real remedy is to look to the Father. God truly is the source of all healing and I am making the decision to remain close to Him despite my emotions. This morning the words written by the psalmist in Psalm 42:6 reminded me of this, “My soul is downcast within me; therefore, I will remember you.” So, even though I feel struck by grief once again, I am choosing to depend on God and I will praise Him and give thanks. For “though I am struck down, I am not destroyed.”

In Brenda’s journal entries, she often wrote what she was thankful for even as she faced death. I read this today and her list made me smile:

• God’s heartbeat in my life.
• The gifts of prayer and scripture.
• My loving family.
• Encouraging friends.
• A roaring appetite.
• Pretty good energy.
• The hope of Christmas, now just weeks away.
• So much love and goodwill at every turn.
• Hope.
• Laughter.

What are you thankful for today?