About The Dying

Sometimes dreams can slip between your fingers like so much rushing sand.  A helium-filled balloon headed quickly skyward, the shocked child’s hand reaches to the ever-smaller orb in the big, wide sky, “Come back!”

There’s been a lot of back and forth about assisted suicide this week.  I felt a steady anger burn within my heart when words like “courageous” were spoken about the young lady’s decision to end her life on her own time clock, by her own hand.  No, thought I, courageous are those who face suffering and endure to the end, who take the lumps with the gravy, the sorrows of life with it’s joys, who don’t circumnavigate suffering, who don’t demand control.  Her decision smells of fear, not courage.  And her legacy?  To encourage cultural and societal acceptance of assisted suicide.  Lord, have mercy.

We are a society that doesn’t want to feel against our will.  So there’s pills for headaches, and there’s pills for our depression and there’s divorce for relationships gone sour.  There’s all sorts of psychobabble gaining traction about setting up scads of boundaries and getting rid of negative people in your life and the main message is that your happiness and personal fulfillment are worth any cost; that selfishness is really good and something you owe to yourself.  To your enthroned and sovereign self.

It came to me as I hiccuped back some emotion lingering from a good, hard cry, as I washed the breakfast dishes on this sunny Sunday morning, that maybe what we’re willing to die to is just as important as what we’re willing to live for.  What we’re willing to suffer for the sake of another, for the sake of something nobler, for the sake of God, that it just might be right there where God finds His seeds germinating within us, His image unfolding, just a bit.  It’s about the dying.

Jesus knows about that.  Death to his own understandable desire to not have to suffer the torture of crucifixion:

“Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”  Mark 14:36

He died to easier routes, to many temptations laid-out for Him in the desert when Satan came to test his mettle, and found it strong.  He lived a daily dying, en route to death, that we might live.  I think about that.

“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”  -Luke 9:23

Our culture says “me, me, me” and Christ says “deny yourself”, “take up your cross”, “follow Me”, unto even death.  Even a death of suffering.  Even a life made acutely painful through giving up dreams held dearly, sacrificing our desires for the sake of others, and letting go when our hands most want to grip tight.

It’s about the dying.  Which is also about the living.

“He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.”  -Mathew 10:19

That somehow, some way, an unshakeable, un-loseable blessing is present riding alongside the pain, the denial of self, the suffering.  A life found.

Hands no longer full of sand, no longer gripping the balloon string,  hands painfully empty, yearning in the dying, and maybe it’s just then, that God can take our empty hands in His own and fill them unchangeably full.

 

 

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Master Gardener

This isn’t how it’s done.  You brush before the dentist appointment and clean before the maid comes and certainly you pull the weeds before the Master Gardener arrives to look things over in your garden.

But the weeds, see, they grow as deep as they grow tall; they’ve sunk right down into the earth and are anchored tight.  If I’d caught them sooner…if…

But now the stems are thick and thorned and cut my hands to ribbons when I try to pull them out.  I thought I was smart, back before I called the Master Gardener in desperation on the tan phone in the kitchen, I thought I could just saw off the visible tops of the weeds-grown-feral.  At least give the impression that jungle wasn’t taking over.

But no.

The weeds took it as a pruning, not a severance.  With renewed vigor they thrust up more stems, stalks, and canes; startling hellish exuberance bursting out of the ground and choking out the flowers.  It was worse than before.  I called the Master Gardener, resignation and pleading and wouldn’t He just come and set it to rights again?

And there He is, looking through the garden gate.  He turns and looks at me, me looking at him through the kitchen window and so ashamed.  His intensity is hard to read.  I put down the dishrag and hear the screen door slam behind me and I twist my hands together while all sorts of excuses climb my throat and fill my mouth.  I clamp my lips over the words, He and I both know what happened here.

I gesture to the weeds and my shoulders sag.  My tongue pushes the other words aside and lets out “Help”.

He smiles.  He smiles and leaps over the garden gate and comically opens the gate for me from within.  I walk in and He shows me some baby weeds that I can pull.  He rolls up his sleeves and begins to work.

I hear Him in the weeds, grunting and pulling and felling those giants.  A dull ache begins in my chest and I struggle to get full breaths.  I see his torn hands and sweat and how the weeds come out one-by-one.  I see the tall one with the black flowers, Pride-of-Life.  Pain lances through me.  It is felled beside Vainglory with it’s profuse orange blooms.  Down comes Ambition and Envy and Discontent.  They lie in a pungent heap, their wild long roots twice the length and width of the weeds themselves.  I have the oddest impression that the roots look like fingers and they even seem to reach back towards the soil in animated longing.

He sees my look.  “Yes, we’ll have to burn them.  Left there they’d replant themselves by morning.”  I turn back to my little pile of baby weeds and examine the roots of one.  Tiny fingers, faintly moving back towards the dirt.  I scream and fling the weed down.  He laughs at me.

“Yes, sin is that way, even when so young.”

We work and work, hauling wheelbarrows full of weeds to the fire pit.  His hands-I can hardly bear to look at them, cut and bloody.  Whenever I think we’re done, He shows me a weed masquerading as a flower; these He is ruthless with, yanking them out with furor.  I hold my hand over my heart where the pains throb and throb.  “We must at all costs prevent these from going to seed.  The weeds that deceive and trick are the deadliest.”

I winced as he pulled a beautiful red one down; it had looked like a kind of rose.  He saw my saddened face and came near.  He held the roots before my eyes so I could see the eerie reaching tentacles and spoke forcefully, “False-Humility.  Give it no quarter.  None.”  I nodded.  Seeing the roots breaks the spell.

We stood beside the fire pit and watched the wretched weeds crackle in the flames.  The roots curled inwards and blackened into coiled claws.  He stood beside me, so vigilant.  It was as if he suspected one would leap out of the fire and make a run for the garden.

My garden…it looked like a war zone.  Craters and holes and just a smattering of flowers that survived the weeds’ onslaught.  He followed my gaze.  “Yes, it looks empty now, but we’ll do some planting to fill it in.  The more beneficial plants that we can cover it in, the more difficult it is for weeds to find a home.”  He poked the last reaching roots into the coals, his bloody hands gleaming in the firelight.  Oh how costly has been my negligence.

“Tomorrow we’ll plant.”

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Day broke and we stood together before flats of strange and wonderful plants.  One looked so cushy and dense that I was surprised to find it hard as rock and unyielding.  “What is this called?”

“That is True-Humility.  It is a ground cover that forms a thick and armor-like covering.  It’ll protect the other plants from invading weeds and keep the soil’s moisture in.”

“And this?” I asked, fingering a spectacular flowered bush with the most outlandish purple blooms.

“That is Kindness, and it blooms continuously.”

We planted Joy, Peace-in-all-Circumstances, Love-Bearing-All, Perseverance-in-Trial, and Sorrow-for-Sin which smelled sweetly in spite of it’s sad drooping leaves.  The garden was empty no longer, feral no longer, and the Master Gardener smiled widely, as did I.

“How can I thank You?  I love it.  I’ll keep after it better now, I promise.”

His smile left his face.  He dropped his eyes to the soil and stooped down.  There, right there at our bare feet, was a new weed pushing up through the soil.  It grew before our eyes, sending out leaves and flowers and fragrance all in fast-forward.

“Behold, Arrogance.”

He bent over and yanked it out and my heart felt a twist within of pain.

“Dear one, do not promise such.  Promise only that every morning you will call Me for help.  Every morning we must come in here and search for that which destroys and get it before it takes deep root.  This is a daily job, not one that should wait, no, not even a day past trouble begins.  As strong as the Virtues are, they are not immune to being destroyed by weeds.  You must call me every morning, you must or death will reign in this garden rather than life.”

I felt the pains leave my chest and warmth spreading from my heart, outward to my limbs. He embraced me and I leaned in to Him.

“Call Me in the morning, dear one, every morning.”

“Yes, Master, yes.”

 

Gloriously Underfoot

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This.

ImageOr, this.

I’ve been handing over the spoons and kettles, a little more each year.  I oversee, I do the tricky parts.  Yesterday I announced to Sophia, as we walked home from the bus stop, that she’s cooking dinner that night.  This provoked all sorts of jealousy among the boys, who also love cooking.  They knew they’d get a minor role though, so all in all they were pleased.

“Get the chicken from the refrigerator, cut the plastic wrapping, drain the blood and rinse the inside and outside with running water.  Oh yeah, and pull out the innards”.

“The inners?”

“The innards, the internal organs that are included.”

The liver and heart plop out into the sink and Sophia remarks dryly, “I didn’t need to see that”.

I remember not to assemble the ingredients beforehand; that’s a temptation with kids, to lay it all out in a controlled, tight way.  Because having other technicians in our tidy lab is jarring.  But it’s all a part of the learning, right?  To find things, to know where the tool to solve the problem lives.

I showed Sophia how to tuck a wing behind the back, she did the other.  I drizzled olive oil over the bird and she rubbed it in, masseuse-like.

“Take a bit of the salt in your hand and rub it around the chest cavity”.  Sophia peered into the fleshy cavern and jerked back.

“EWWW!  MOM, I can’t put my hand in there”.

“You will do it.  It’s part of cooking.”  Sophia makes a sickly face.  Reuben musters up some macho bravado and volunteers to do it.

“No, Reuben.  Sophia will do it.  You can do it next time.”

My daughter knows how stubborn I am.  She also knows how big her heart swells with joy when she conquers a fear.  In goes the salty hand, done.  She smiles.  We tie up the legs and sprinkle herbs atop and lay the whole bird in a bed of salt for roasting.

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Sophia learns pancake making.

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I learn how not to take over.  Coffee helps.

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I realized it, you know, how God lets me learn through messes.  He’s so patient, so very patient.

There’s something in the end result that He loves that much, so much that it’s worth all the mistakes and false starts and dripping batter and all that time spent.  Because, He doesn’t really need us, you know.  Just like I don’t need my kids in the kitchen; in fact, I could get everything done in half the time with nigh half the mess.  But the end of it would be that they wouldn’t know how to cook.  And I wouldn’t have the pleasure of seeing them go from cracking the egg right down the cabinet front to cracking it with ease and confidence and whipping the whites into a perfect merengue.

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We made a Christian Passover meal one year.  We ground up the grains, we made the matzo bread, we roasted lamb, and made charoset.

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We remembered Jesus’s broken body as we broke that matzo bread in pieces, we remembered his shed blood in the dry red wine.  This food prepared together, with our own feeble hands and broken efforts and hope, brought us to remember Him who came to set us to rights, to reconcile us to the Father, to begin fashioning us now into His beautiful likeness, that we reflect His glory like the moon does the sun’s brightness.  To join us to the patient Father who invites us to come and learn, who does not despise our weaknesses, but makes haste to cover them with His grace.  I feel that side of Him when I hand my child another egg to crack after one is pooling at our feet on the hard tile floor.

May we teach as we are taught by God; patiently, lovingly, and with a smile.