Grief

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Grief sneaks up on me,
cunningly disguising itself
so I can’t see it coming.

Or maybe I see through its costumes
and just don’t want to accept
that it’s still here,
dragging at the corners of my spirit,
masking the colors around me,
dimming my hope, my joy.

I don’t want to be sad
when the world is so shiny with tinsel
and the music calls for holiday cheer.

And then, finally,
I turn toward grief
and open my heart.

Grief and I embrace,
weeping,
into the night.

Thinking of Dad

Charlie, c. 1957

I am thinking of you today, Dad,
On this day when you crossed through the thin space
To join the saints who had preceded you:
Mom, Holt, Ida Mae, Bill …

You had been leaving us for a long time
As bits and pieces of your memory slowly slipped away.
“A blessing, really,” is what we all said of your passing.
But that did not take away the grief that we felt.

I remember the first time you did not remember who I was.
We were having dinner at the kitchen table.
You had been looking at me, and then
You finally asked me who I was.
I said, “I’m your daughter.”
You turned to Anna to see if it was true.
She said, “Yes. That’s your daughter.”
“I have a daughter?” you said in surprise.
But you took it all in as I told you who was:

Beth, your daughter.
Writer of books and liturgy.
Singer of songs.
Clergy in The United Methodist Church.
Worker at The Upper Room.
(You remembered The Upper Room.)

You were so happy
That you had a daughter.
So proud of who I had become.
And I was so happy
At your delight.

And so, we started our new ritual
Carried out in person, on the phone,
In which I would introduce myself to you
And you would be surprised … delighted!

And I was blessed with your love, your happiness,
And your affirmation
Over and over and over again.

Slogging through Grief

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Yesterday I sent the last issue of Alive Now to the production department. Its publication date is March/April 2017. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been proofreading, getting final sign-offs, sending corrections to the designer. Each task has brought me one step closer to the end of this publication that has been like a dear friend and mentor to me.

I’m grieving, heart-sick. In this one year, I’ve closed two beloved publications: Weavings and Alive Now. These two resources have been a part of my life for over 30 years. It’s like losing best friends. Alive Now was the place of my first published writing. In the Alive Now office under the care of Mary Ruth Coffman, I fell in love with words, with editing, with the spiritual life. Mary Ruth, John Mogabgab (editor of Weavings), and many others mentored and guided me on this path, setting the course of my career as an editor, writer, leader, mystic.

I will be a part of shaping what is next for The Upper Room as we seek to serve these audiences in new ways. But right now, I’m too heart-sick to think about that. I guess it’s like trying to replace a beloved pet with a new puppy or kitten. I’m just not finished with the grieving part.

Many of you are also grieving the closing of these two publications. I’ve been hearing from you. I have a request: If you have been touched by one or both of these publications, please help us as we discern the future.

  1. Fill out a survey for Alive Now and/or Weavings, telling us a bit about yourself and your needs.
  2. Join our email list (at the links above) so that we can keep in touch and we can let you know when we have new resources available.
  3. Tell us your stories about Alive Now and Weavings — how we met and how you have used the publication.

Thank you for being a part of our journey. Please help us share the word about our research and continue to pray for us as we develop new resources for those who are hungry for a sacred way of living.

God Comforts All Who Mourn

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I need this today as I assist in the memorial service for my friend, Linda Zralek. Comforting God, be present and wrap us in your healing blanket of love. Amen.

God of the brokenhearted, it is hard to be in mourning during this joyous time of year. But I know that you come to all of us, especially those filled with tears as captives to grief. Wrap them in your comforting spirit. Amen.
– From The Uncluttered Heart

All Saints

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For all the Saints …
Who birthed and nurtured,
Mothers and fathers,
Grandfathers and grandmothers,
Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends,
We are grateful.
Alleluia, alleluia!

For all the Saints …
Who loved and cherished,
Husbands, wives, partners,
Friends and lovers,
We are grateful.
Alleluia, alleluia!

For all the Saints …
Who died too soon,
Whose absence pains us still,
We remember with tears,
Aches in our hearts,
And yet, we are grateful.
Alleluia, alleluia.

For all the Saints …
Who taught and mentored,
Teachers and spiritual directors,
Older friends and younger prophets,
Guiding us, inspiring us,
We are grateful.
Alleluia, alleluia!

For all the Saints …
Who watch over us,
Pray for us,
Sit with us,
Guide us,
We are grateful.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

 
 
Find more of my prayers in my book Christ Beside Me, Christ Before Me: Celtic Blessings.

I Hear the Sound of Breaking Hearts

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For John Mogabgab (1946-2014)

I hear the sound of breaking hearts
John – mentor, teacher, colleague, friend,
Has left this life and entered into life eternal.

I feel the ripples of a thousand broken hearts.
John, founder of Weavings,
Shaper of the Academy for Spiritual Formation.
Spiritual Abba to me and you and you and you.
Heartbeat of The Upper Room.

I know the pain of a breaking heart
The shock, the sadness,
the emptiness that can never be filled.

Do you now sit and pray and talk and laugh
With Henri, with Douglas, with Thomas,
With Howard and Martin,
With Brigit and Columba,
Benedict and Augustine,
Theresa and Hildegard and Julian,
Abbas and Ammas,
With others named John, and,
I humbly imagine, with Jesus?

Rest your weariness,
Sing with angels,
And, if you don’t mind, please,
Pray for those whose hearts are broken.

Thank you, John.
I am grateful.
I miss you.
And I feel your presence In this place.

Sitting in the Shadowlands

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When the one you love
is no longer there,
hidden in the shadowlands
between life and death.
When all you can do is hold his hand,
stroke her cheek.

When tears leak out
at the smallest kindness,
or pour down your cheeks
like they will never stop.

When valiant caregivers
have done all they can
and can do no more.

When there are no words,
when there is no comfort,
when you are lost
in the shock and the grief.

You are not alone.
You are surrounded with love
of family
of friends
of those who have gone before.

You and he are held in light,
you and she are surrounded by love.
Do not fear for you are flanked by angels.
You are Beloved of the Holy One.

 
 
Find more of my prayers in my book Christ Beside Me, Christ Before Me: Celtic Blessings.

A Blessing for the Empty Place

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You sit in the empty place that is left,
After the death, the arrangements, the service,
The cards and calls and emails,
The departure of family,
The thank yous and acknowledgements.

Left with the emptiness,
The space that can never be filled
In quite the same way.

You see a shadow, hear a sound,
Taste a food she used to love,
Start to tell him something about your day,
Smell a blanket or pillowcase,
And your eyes and heart are filled with tears.

The first week, the first month, the first birthday,
The first holiday, the first anniversary,
These bring you to the place of remembering,
The place of exquisite, lonely sorrow.

Bless you and your memories.
Bless the tender heart that beats within you.
Bless the empty space that can never be filled.

The shadows, the smells, the tastes, the thoughts,
Transform their pain into blessings,
Signs that though you live in that desperately empty place,
She walks beside you,
He laughs in the shelter of your heart.

That empty place
That can never be filled
In quite the same way
Is filled
With love.

 
 
Find more of my prayers in my book Christ Beside Me, Christ Before Me: Celtic Blessings.

Remembering Mom

momMy mom passed away 29 years ago today. I was in seminary in Nashville and she was in Oklahoma. We had learned during the summer that her brain tumor had grown back and was inoperable. My mom wanted me to stay in school rather than come home for the duration of her life, so I decided to become an expert on death. I enrolled in Pastoral Care for the Sick and Dying. I read books like May Sarton’s The Reckoning. I wrote poetry and did art about death and how I felt.

Mom was cared for at home by Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, and many, many people from Grace United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. At some point she was moved to the hospital where she lived for several months before she died. (I guess hospice care had not come to Oklahoma yet.) In October of that year, Dad called to say I might want to come to see her while she was still conscious. I flew home, all ready to have meaningful conversations about life and death and whatever Mom wanted to talk about.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it didn’t happen. (Life is funny that way.) Mom couldn’t really talk … at least with words. Every so often she would say a word or two that let us know she was still in there. But she spoke with her eyes and with the squeeze of her hand.

One day, Grandma was there getting Mom dressed, fixing her hair, and putting on her make-up. We were trying to figure out the color of the sweater Mom was wearing. Mom said, “Fuchsia.” (Only thing she said that day.)

I wanted to do death “right.” And ultimately, I realize, I did. I was there with her and she was there with me. We sat in silence or I talked to her. I feasted my eyes on her and felt my feelings. When it was time for me to leave for the airport. I leaned over and hugged her. “I love you, Mom,” I said. She said, “I love you, darlin.” Those were the last words I she spoke to me.

Some weeks after that she slipped away into sleep. And on the 16th of November, 1983, she passed into the loving arms of God. I’m grateful beyond words for Mom.