The long dark week of Lent

The long dark week of Lent

Many are in the midst of a time of hurt, loss, despair or death. Hanging on throughout the forever-three long days and nights of dark emptiness. Much of the Christian church begins the final week of Lent recalling Jesus’ seemingly triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday. How quickly the high of the disciples dissipated into betrayal, fear, and death.

Like the travelers in the airport in Brussels, life can change in an instant, the light blown out.

For others the journey is a slow crawl in a dark tunnel.

Last week, a dear sister laid her mother to rest from a form of dementia that makes Alzheimer’s seem benevolent. I know personally that the horror of the last years of her mother’s life don’t prevent heartache at losing her.

For all who feel like their own Lent will go on forever, that the darkness will never end, I want to share what she wrote on Facebook. (with permission – emphasis mine)

Cecelia Timberlake March 19 at 8:45 pm · A faith perspective of my mom’s death and LENT

This Lent has truly been a desert time for our family, for me, even when surrounded by others, a time without comfort knowing mom was so sick, a time for searching and praying for healing, and a time of preparation. This Lent saying goodbye to the woman who brought me into the world seemed impossible. I fought letting go of mom, resisting with all of my heart. This is my mother, our mother, grandmother, great grandmother and we all fought fiercely to keep her here.

The only way out of this desert is to let the love of Jesus be our guide. His Love dictated the path, the timing, the direction, and prepared the way. Mom was in the desert with us for a while. We ultimately had to let her go, surrender her to our Father.

This Lent I felt weaker than ever, but needed strength. I felt more alone than ever but needed support. I felt emptied of love but needed more love. I felt directionless but needed a compass.

This I know:
Jesus came out of the desert renewed, and He is my example. He tells us He will guide us, love us, strengthen us, quench our thirst, and give us guidance. He will show me and fill me with sustenance. He has great plans for us.

I imagine her walking forward, holding up her arms and smiling, seeing my dad and immediately feeling great joy. I can see him taking her hand and moving forward to greet her sisters Nita and Mildred, and brother Johnnie, I imagine the welcoming party of her mom and dad. Her son. Her friends. Her grandson. Oh, her joy.

THAT’S IT! THAT is the way out. Focus on mom being happy, being whole, enjoying being loved! Focus on her enthusiasm at having memories and the glory of Heaven. No more pain! No more imprisoned in her mind and body. Sometimes after a long dry wait, the rain comes and overnight the whole desert blooms in beautiful flowers. I think mom is in the midst of beauty now, Gods beauty.

Our church reenacts the final Passover Meal that Jesus ate with his friends and washed their feet. We read about his leading them to the garden to pray — he alone in agony when they all fell asleep. In that garden, before one of his friends betrayed him with a kiss, Jesus faced his own his brutal death and separation from God. Alone.

He knows the void of the desert. He knows what the long dark feels like. 

But there is more. So much more.

That night he suffered terrible abuse, cruelty, mockery and rejection, all on the way to “Good” Friday, his torturous death on a cross.

Then to his burial.

His tomb sealed with a stone that took at least ten men to roll in place, everything looked totally hopeless.

But there is more!

On the third day the brave ones found the tomb open, grave clothes undisturbed where they had laid his body. But he wasn’t there.

He arose! Jesus overcame death and darkness.

In this new life he made a way for us out of the wilderness.

Out of the darkness.

When it feels like all is lost, or not worth going forward, I do as Cecelia did. I recall what I know to be true. What God has done for me in the past. What I know of him. What he has promised. And recall that when I am weak, he is strong.

Then I throw myself into his love.

Wishing you the true Light, Joy and Peace.

 

 

 

 

What do you do with a troubled heart?

Why do I wake in the morning and expect this day to go as planned, “normal?” I suppose for sanity we have to assume some things will go on, the sun will rise, my heart will beat, my family will live and thrive. To think otherwise every morning would lead to madness, or at least extreme anxiety. When something abruptly changes the rhythm of things, especially when a life is ended, we are brought up short by the small part we play in making this world go around, for the day to proceed, for the breath we take. And our hearts churn.

This week I ran across a text I sent last year, confirming activities in August so I could plan my mother’s 93rd birthday celebration. I had no way of knowing that only days later she would begin her journey home, and instead, celebrate that day in eternity. As the dates approached, I entered into the memories of last year, my mother’s fall and treatment in the E.R., her admission to the hospital, then the transfer the next day to hospice, and the vigil that followed until she died the following Monday.

Mom lived a rich, complex life, much of it blessed. She was long past ready to go to Jesus, and she left behind a rich legacy and memories that I will never finish replaying. Still, her absence in my world is a black hole, sucking my energy with a jab of emotion whenever something triggers a scene or her voice. But my sadness is limited now.

And it is balanced by my awareness of the pain of others. How can I take up residence in my own emotions when so many others need prayer, love and support?

A few days ago, I stopped to talk with my next store neighbor as he entered his driveway after walking his dogs. Only the location and dogs identified the scarecrow who was a hefty and active man only months ago. Cancer and something unknown is sipping away his life.

A good friend comes to church alone, the husband she anticipated growing old with in glory, instead lying in darkness in his bed, resisting her efforts to socialize.

An exhausted daughter tries desperately to calm her mother, terrorized by drugs and dementia, and learns her brother has died.

A child is torn from his mother, brutally sent to Jesus too soon. Her grief is set to destroy her.

My heart aches for these and others I know, or am asked to pray for, as well as for those I read about in the paper and hear on the news, lives abruptly changed by violence or accident or disease.

And yet, the Jesus who wept at his friend’s grave says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

I’ve tumbled that over in my mind all weekend, my heart so troubled that sometimes I could barely walk. Lifting the ones whose burdens weighed on me to the only one who has the power to change anything, I interceded through out the day. Even during the night I woke and prayed.

Still, my heart ached.

This morning I read from my favorite prophet, Isaiah. “I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song.”

The pieces slipped into place. Like so many others, the command from Jesus not to let my heart be troubled is one I can’t obey on my own. I need his strength. And for me, his strength comes in song, whether singing out loud, or responding to every little thing in my life as a gift, in a song of internal thanksgiving.

Once I began turning my heart toward Jesus, thanking him for the cardinals and finches playing out front, the dishwasher humming again after DH fixed it, the softness of my pillow, all the events in the lives of my children and grandchildren . . . once I started, the naming of thanks went on unassisted.

And though I am still praying for those in pain, my heart is no longer troubled.

Are you burdened, “heavy laden” as the old text reads?

Or are you the burden-bearer, bending under the weight of it?

Unforced rhythms of grace

Compassion for those suffering the shadow land of dementia, and for those who love them

The other side of the true religion equation is caring for widows. In the months leading to my widowed mother’s death last July she longed to be free of her dementia ravaged brain and the bizarre world she crept through each day. When she died, I thought I’d feel peace, for the end to her torture, and for me, relieved of the day and night weight of trying to ease her pain, brighten her life, lift her load, with rare success.

Mom and a great-granddaughterInstead, I miss her wacky presence. I miss having a Mom, even if I’d been the one mothering her for years. Instead of taking care of a widow, I am an orphan.

And I have become extremely sensitive to the multigenerational relationships around me.

I notice the middle-aged woman easing her father out of her car to the wheel chair—often a great challenge in itself—and chatting with him about what he “needs” to buy in the grocery store. I want to hug her and encourage her to keep on.

I also see the daughter or son impatient with their confused or fumbling parent in the doctor’s office. I want to intervene and say:

I know the days are long —

Often the nights as well, if you have your loved one at home, or just can’t sleep because they are on your heart and mind.

I know they can be exasperating, exhausting, argumentative and unappreciative.

I know sometimes you are so bone tired you don’t know how much longer you can do this.

At times you don’t even want to see your “loved one.” And you feel guilty. Somewhere you know, probably unprocessed, they are not your enemy. It is the ravages of dementia you both battle.

And in the midst of it all, you are grieving.

All the little losses of who they used to be, or say, or do, or love

As they lose abilities and you take on more responsibilities, you know this is slow.motion.dying.

It rips you up inside.

My humble advice:

Let go of who they were.

If there is anything at all that they enjoy or respond to now, go for it, in spades.

If I had a do-over I’d give my mother more baths, more back rubs and loads of ice cream, because that’s what really brought a smile to her face, until near the end.

If your once unsmiling, go-by-the-rules mother is all of the sudden giggling at all the wrong moments, giggle with her.

It hurts to see your once proud, successful father muttering in a wheelchair or wearing diapers, but he still needs a kiss on that wrinkled cheek. He needs you, not just folks paid to care for his needs.

If she wants to dance in church, go early and dance with her.

Don’t worry so much about their falling down or getting lost. This is strange coming from one who used to teach American Red Cross classes to seniors about safety, but at this point in their lives, I believe connecting is more important than safety.

Seek every opportunity to relate to whomever you have before you, today.

I believe that even with those who seem to be disconnected, deep inside, your loved one is still there waiting for you to reach in when they can’t reach out.

Waiting to feel loved.

Needing so much the security that only connection with you can give them in the nightmare inside their head.

Find music from their childhood or youth and play or sing it. Sometimes a song can “wake” a person who hasn’t responded in months. I sang in a nursing home to a semicircle of wheel-chaired patients, one in the back slumped over, oblivious. When we started singing an old gospel chorus, she sat up in her chair and clearly sang every word with us. We learned later she hadn’t talked or responded to anyone in months.

Several years ago my sister told me about the book Still Alice. I read it in a wash of tears, and it changed how I looked at behaviors that once confused or irritated me with our Mom. (I’ve heard the movie is also good. If you go, take lots of tissues.)

Impatience turned into compassion.

So cry when grief hits your gut, then wipe your tears and dance, hug, rub backs, and sing.

And hold them and pray, out loud, because their spirit is still alive, hungry for eternal words when the words of this world no longer have value.