November’s Singuilar Brilliance

The Burr Oaks are bare now. A solitary hackberry, much like a petulant younger sibling, vies for our attention from the kitchen window. It is no match for the sentinel oaks’ black knurled limbs cutting sharp furrows across November’s grisaille sky. Long winter looms though our larder is full.

Life is no less rich but registers differently, satisfactions more somnolent, gratitude more easily recognized as gratuitous. Example? On Wednesday we celebrated a dinner marking a young friend’s birthday. Five of us filled the table: our host, the 23 y/o honoree, her boyfriend, my husband and me.

Now well into our maturity we reveled in Grace’s vitality, potential and dreams. Yet, they are not ours. We vicariously share her eager enthusiasm for all that will open before her and everything which awaits her savoring and creativity.  Still, we will never witness Grace in her full stature as the woman of consequence she will certainly become.

When fickle November sun, filtered by the looming oak, pierces our kitchen window we feel only its light — bright, blinding luminance. Summer’s radiant warmth is now gone. We grow content with singular brilliance penetrating our shuttered eyes. Like barren branches that have yielded their fruit, color and sheltering foliage we stand exposed without shame, in our nakedness.

No longer do we ask Grace’s question: “Where am I called to go?” Rather, in full stature of our knurled maturity, our question becomes: “Where am I called to let go?”

With the brilliance only November yields, we take stock of an abundant harvest. All that remains is gratitude for everything that has been given. Yes, everything!

Tomorrow, Tomorrow…

Could life get any better? Details aren’t necessary to make an important point — it’s not always like this! Stuff happens, sometimes very difficult and painful stuff. Something always happens to dump the apple cart — that’s just a fact of life, not pessimism!

All the more reason to remember sage advice — Take full stock of the good times, savor them, store them up! Hang on to them. File them away as a resource and consolation when times change, when tough stuff happens, when life ain’t so good. Sure as fierce February follows October splendor, seasons of our lives get harsh with regularity.

Only in retrospect does Parker Palmer celebrate the job he did not get for the way it prepared him for the career he eventually found. Omaha, where I grew up and will always be “home”, is reeling with news that ConAgra is moving its corporate headquarters to Chicago. Two-thirds of the way into the Synod on the Family, Vatican observers are describing it as a model of chaos and conflict. Challenges overwhelm us at times.  Loved ones die.

All the more reason to relish the good times so we will remember them in the tough times. Store up the spectacle of October for solace in the depths of winter. And my 65 years remind me to keep a light touch — grasping and clutching simply intensifies the eventual pain of letting go. Receive all as gift. Cling to nothing. Let gratitude be our only and constant refrain.

A final truth comes with Autumn spading of our backyard garden. Turning a year’s worth of household compost into the spent soil, earth yields an eternal truth — a plowed, over-turned field is better prepared to receive the promise of what has yet to be planted.

October’s Honesty

My sister Claudia hates autumn. “Everything is dying, coming to an end.” Me? October is my favorite month of the year! Yes, it can be fickle. Sometimes it even disappoints by failing to deliver. This year, however, it has been spectacular!

Of course, October marks a season of diminishment , a time of dying. Morning walks with Jeb the Dog are now begun in darkness. Though we have not yet had what our Dad would have called a “killing frost”, it is past-time to retrieve sweaters from the cedar chest.

But the blue of an October sky is never more crisp. Yesterday, foliage along the Mississippi demanded an audible gasp. Is there anything more whimsical than the varieties of squash awaiting us at the market? And, the air… a fire-tower sentinel along Lake Superior is likely to see all the way to the Alleghenies.

Still, Claudia is not alone.  Perhaps she represents the majority.  At 65 — certainly the autumn of my years — the sufficiency of harvest is now tempered by the harsh necessity of winnowing.

Parker Palmer, an iconic elder for my generation, also laments the way “summer’s abundance decays toward winter’s death.” He confesses to being “drawn down by the prospect of death more than [being] lifted by the hope of new life.”

Palmer asks, “Faced with this inevitable winter, what does nature do in autumn? She scatters the seeds that will bring new growth in the spring—and she scatters them with amazing abandon.”

Yet, the recognition that I will not live to see to maturity the oak I planted last Spring sends an autumnal chill through my bones. Recognizing the same chill, Palmer admits he is rarely aware that seeds are being planted.

The courageous elder that he is, Palmer explores autumn’s paradox of dying and seeding, and discovers a deep reservoir of hope and purpose. We easily fixate on surface appearances—on decline, decay, finally death.  Mature reflection throughout his 76 years moves Palmer to assert, “On the surface it seemed that life was lessening, but silently and lavishly the seeds of new life were always being sown.”

He poses the inevitable, urgent question: “How shall we understand autumn’s testimony that death and elegance go hand in hand?” With the compassion, wisdom and clarity garnered only by a true elder, Palmer offers more than an answer. He frames the truth of our lives:

In a paradox, opposites do not negate each other—they cohere in mysterious unity at the heart of reality. Deeper still, they need each other for health, as my body needs to breathe in as well as breathe out. But in a culture that prefers the ease of either-or thinking to the complexities of paradox, we have a hard time holding opposites together. We want light without darkness, the glories of spring and summer without the demands of autumn and winter… But if we allow the paradox of darkness and light to be, the two will conspire to bring wholeness and health to every living thing.

Yes, October is the most spectacular of months. Fickle, but full of promise.  No other month is as honest in its portrayal of life.  As foliage falls a penetrating vision reveals the truth of what lies ahead.
____________________
I encourage you to read Parker Palmer’s fuller reflection which inspired me.  They may be found of the Fetzer Institute website [here].

Too Late Wise

“Y’know life can be really hard!” A dear friend was summarizing a conversation we had recently. Each of us could recite a long litany of challenges family and friends are facing — death of a spouse, chronic physical pain, frustrating dead-end careers, relapses in addictive behaviors, unspeakable betrayal in relationships, the list goes on.

All this was washing over me as Jeb the Dog took me to Minnehaha Creek for our late afternoon walk. We’ve had a marvelous summer, gardens are well-tended and the world looks lush. Weeks away from summer solstice, the sun now casts a perceptively different shadow. Jeb remains enthusiastic in his obligation to mark designated trees but he too seems to recognize the waning season.

With head cocked, Jeb grieves the absence of once plentiful ducklings from the water. A fresh silver maple now obstructs the creek’s easy flow, sad consequence of the previous night’s storm. Mary Oliver’s lament in her brilliant poem, The Summer Day rippled within my heart, “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?”

In a few days Medicare kicks in. That more than the fact of turning 65 shocks me into heightened reflectivity. Like every Minnesotan’s experience of summer, it all happens too fast, passes too soon! There is no time for regrets. Precious time is now better spent remembering, gathering wisdom from what has been, harvesting all that is needed for approaching winter.

Upstream from where the silver maple diverts the free-flowing creek, Jeb plants himself as a sentinel surveying this place he knows so well. Feet squarely set, he appears oblivious as his chest creases the fast-moving current. A rock we know so well for its musical ripple when the creek dances with a normal flow has been smothered by the swarming storm water.

Again, Jeb becomes my best teacher. With legs squared and eyes fixed on the approaching torrent, he ponders our familiar terrane and the changes transforming our daily routine. Like the now silent rock that lies submerged by the storm, his resolute posture tells all I need to know. Do not fear deep water or the rushing torrent. Stand resolute in the middle of it all and let the waters flow over and around you.

As I officially join the Medicare generation on Saturday and turn 65 mid-month, what wisdom is to be gathered? Is there a harvest to be gleaned from these fast flowing years? By necessity, a new modesty seeks to take hold — I am far less certain about everything for which I once asserted a cocky self-confidence. I recognize a propensity to attack paper tigers like Papal infallibility all the while laying arrogant claim to my own.

If age smooths certain edges, it yields strength and confidence as well. Jeb resolutely squared himself midstream. Just as the stationary rock provides rippling melodies when the creek is running its normal course, so too it remains planted and ready to resume its role once the surge subsides. So too with us — I cannot imagine how we are to remain centered amid life’s litany of challenges without resolutely planting ourselves in a spiritual practice of prayer or meditation.

I increasingly cringe at the “wisdom” and “advice” I so wantonly gave whoever would listen. No longer do I claim to speak for God. In fact, I am coming to recognize the God I claimed to serve was too easily an idol of my own fashioning, one I tried to direct and contain. The Risen Christ breaks boundaries, defies our categories and shows up where we least expect — sometimes among those of whom we would not approve.

Finally, I am getting a glimpse into what Benedict of Nursia taught in the sixth century. This preeminent exemplar of western monasticism prescribed that any who would presume to offer spiritual counsel to others should know how to heal their own wounds first (RB46.6). Only when we have felt the full force life’s torrents wash over us may we presume to understand those who feel overwhelmed or are mired in despair.

Of this I am certain… those to whom I have been consistently drawn for solace or counsel somehow communicate they too have known the overwhelming mercy of God. They too are familiar with life’s torrents and human frailty. They know what it is to feel submerged or planted amid life’s rushing currents.  They simply stand firm with legs squared in the assurance that we are loved — beyond measure, beyond ourselves, beyond time.

Suddenly, It All Looks Different

It’s like suddenly seeing the whole world with a pair of 3-D glasses.

Every once in a while something happens and everything seems different. Often we don’t see it coming. Life just “accumulates” until something shifts. The old way of seeing, doing, being doesn’t fit anymore. We just know the change in our bones! Doesn’t have to be dramatic. There’s no going back — we wouldn’t want to. Often its quiet, subtle — like falling in love.

This time it came in an innocuous Tweet. I read it only once. I don’t even know the context. There hasn’t been the need or even the inclination to go back and retrieve it. It simply made explicit what now seems conspicuous, true, enduring. The Tweet was quoting Pope Francis: “The church doesn’t need any more teachers, the church needs more witnesses.”

We spend our lives going to church, saying our prayers, paying stewardship pledges, taking kids to Sunday school, maybe even teaching Confirmation class. We “do” a lot of stuff!  But, doing somehow morphs over time into “being” different. It’s not that the old stuff isn’t important, it just doesn’t seem to matter that much anymore.

I cannot speculate what this looks or feels like for anyone else. One way I’m experiencing the change is in the difference between ministry and discipleship. The self-introduction (the About Me tab) that accompanies this blog speaks of my “desire to return to ministry.” That was absolutely true — but that now feels obscure, somewhat foreign, certainly obsolete.

When I get around to updating my bio for this site — even that editing doesn’t feel like a high priority now — I will revise “return to ministry” to a current “desire to live a life of more explicit discipleship.” Do you recognize the shift? If you do, great. If not, no sweat! What matters is that a new set of glasses has changed the way I’m seeing, what I’m seeing, and how I want to respond to the world.

We give a lot of lip service in church circles to conversion, repentance, transformation, being born-again, call it what you will. Some of us try all sorts of spiritual practices, follow proven routines and rituals, read the latest books (or blogs!) and even regularly go on retreat. These are praiseworthy, serve a purpose. But their value is good to dispose us to receive what we seek. That’s all they are — dispositional. They are not the change itself.

Change comes through the initiative of grace. It awakens, enlightens, transforms our whole world — like a new pair of 3-D glasses. Whether my new appreciation for the difference between ministry and discipleship endures is yet to be seen.  But its welcome, feels refreshing.

What’s the “shift” you seek?  Is yours also a move from “doing” stuff to “being” different in the world?  Whatever the change turns out to be, I’m certain we all need more of it.

The Resolute Face of Love

Yesterday was picture-perfect, just the sort of day for a graduation party in the yard. We were present to give testimony to Nathan’s achievement and as manifestation of the rich web of relationships and roles it takes to raise a child. Either is a sufficient reason for celebration.

The strong web of community endures even when we are unaware, overlaps with surprises that delight us. Here’s one… Bob & Maura, friends from the Church of St. Luke were at the party. We hadn’t seen each other since the graduate was a preschooler!  I had forgotten that Bob had been the college roommate of Nathan’s dad.

We shared the sort of three-minute update friends do after a break of thirteen years. What are we up to now? Weren’t those great days! In our case we grieved the sorry state of the church we love — a frequent topic for many of us in Minneapolis-St Paul over the past few years.

But as our perfect summer Sunday afternoon provided, as Nathan commences with his move to Seattle University, our circumstances inspired optimism, gratitude, hope, confidence. Despite our collective pain and considerable grief at what has transpired in our church over the past thirteen years, we remained oddly enthusiastic and happy.

Our sentiment was appropriate to a festive occasion.  In our hurried recap yesterday Bob, Maura and I had actually expressed an odd sort of satisfaction with our church.  Silence and secrecy kill — at lease now “the boil had burst, the festering pain finally exposed.”

We agreed that healing happens once facts are faced and truth is told.  In an odd sort of way, we acknowledged that we are actually a much healthier church in 2015 than we were in 1995. For institutions as well as individuals, recovery of mission and purpose can slowly but definitively commence with public confession of our sin.

Little could we have anticipated this morning’s news!  It came as a bolt of lightning, as a sudden shock, a welcome but totally unexpected surprise.  Though eagerly longed for by a long-suffering community, the resignation of Archbishop John Neinstedt does not elicit any sense of gloating.  Actually, a deep resonant grief underpins my profound gratitude which in turn inspires an abiding hope.

Vindication — and there is most assuredly a sense of vindication and justice in the refreshing news — feels kinder, gentler and much more merciful than either I would have ever expected or prescribed.  This morning’s deep emotions are less about a scandalous abuse of power and the excruciating pain inflicted, though there is plenty of that!  The deeper anguish now surfacing is for all that might have been, for a future that should have been!  This is the loss that we must truly grieve.

This morning is party cloudy in MSP, not nearly as picturesque as yesterday afternoon with Nathan. There will surly be cloudy days, some long nights and even a few storms ahead for Nathan and for all of us.  Once again we are reminded of what’s really important, where we stand and to whom we belong.

This is all possible because — ultimately — we rest securely within an intricate web of community that celebrates milestones, tells the truth, remains present amid grief, heals those in pain, cherishes our young, and cares for any who are vulnerable.  This is all possible because we rest in the resolute love of God.

What an ideal “village” in which to raise a child… what a graced way to experience “church.”

Giving It a Rest

Lighten up! Give it a rest! Chill out, would you?

Okay, I hear you. Yes, the last few post have been pretty “heavy”… diminishment, suffering, excoriating an Archbishop. If Kneading Bread had an editor (maybe it needs one!), I would likely be cautioned that such serious fare is sure to kill readership — as if our cultural gospel truly is “Don’t worry; be happy!”

But we cannot get away from the big questions, can we? Life just keeps happening, prescribing a menu not of our choosing. Even the spiritual-but-not-religious types cannot avoid what the Buddha taught in his Four Noble Truths — the first of which is essentially, “Life is suffering!”

Dukkha is the Buddhist term commonly translated suffering, anxiety or stress. The Buddha is reputed to have said: “I have taught one thing and one thing only, dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.” So much for those who want to bail on Christianity because all this stuff about “the cross” is such a downer! Well folks, it seems that “unsatisfactoriness” is here to stay and we better learn to deal with it!

An encouraging thing happened yesterday in the form of a comment made to my post. It really brought a smile to my face, delighted me, really helped me lighten up! My nephew, Terry made more than a comment to my post. His comment expressed the heart of what I was trying to say, and he did it much more simply:

I am glad I persevered to the end. Rohr describes the absolute bedrock of faith where one can voluntarily leap into the unknown sea of suffering. Fearless! If the human condition (suffering) is only a mask, than what lies beneath? I believe Rohr would say God’s love, unflinching and unchanging. Perhaps others would say darkness or nothingness. When it comes to this universal question of meaning, I am comforted by the writings of the two Richards above. Vielen Dank! (that’s German for “Thank you very much.”)

When I was a kid, my parents taught me — and my nephew Terry’s mother — a prayer that asked God to give us a break from life as “this vale of tears.” That’s certainly not in vogue any longer in our 21st century spiritual-but-not-religious or don’t-worry-be-happy culture. Isn’t there a consumer good to satisfy our every want, a pill to alleviate every discomfort?  If there is not, we want there to be one.

Sorry, folks! Life is pretty much what Jesus, the Buddha, my nephew and all the great wisdom traditions have been saying.  Our choice is pretty much what we make of it!  What is our response? How will we live? What is beneath all of this? Love… unflinching, unchanging? Darkness? Nothingness?

I’m putting my bet on God. Not as a life insurance policy! Not as deus ex machina. Not as a begrudging, reluctant savior who condescends to pull us from the muck! But on a God alive, manifest in creation. A Word made flesh. God-incarnate. Emmanuel, God-with-us. One who gets up, close and personal, in whose image is made very single person on this earth — no exceptions!  My bet is firmly placed on Love.

When it comes to all this, the simple Shakers had it so very right…

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro’ all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?
What tho’ my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho’ the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?
I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it,
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his—
How can I keep from singing?

Suffer? Good God!

Odds are high you won’t read this post. When you discover the topic you will likely stop and hit “delete.” None of us want to face it. None of us like it. All of us wish it would disappear — but it won’t.

So we stifle it, ignore it in every way we can, pretend it isn’t lurking over our shoulder. Some of us even resort to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and anesthetize its pain.

(Now would be a good time to stop reading if you don’t want to persevere to the end.)

We are going to Germany for two-weeks at the end of September. My maternal grandmother was an Irish girl from South Boston but the rest of my heritage is German. Not far below the surface throughout what we expect to be a wonderful trip will be a nagging question: How could a people so great and a culture so grand become so corrupt that it perpetrated the horrendous evil of the Holocaust?

We all wrestle with suffering — especially when it is unmerited and random. Why do some children endure such violence and misfortune when others do not? Why does Beau Biden die of brain cancer at age 46? Tornados destroy entire communities and sometimes randomly kill neighbors. None of this makes sense!

I’ve wrestled with the topic of suffering but more often than not simply ignore it and distract myself with my privileged life and bask in my own relative good fortune. Yet the reality nags, taunts and festers at the edges of my consciousness.

Maybe this explains why so many of us shun public transportation. A simple bus ride across downtown Minneapolis exposes a human side of life we would rather ignore or deny — like choosing not to read this post any further and summarily hitting “delete”.  But, don’t!

Last week the New York Times offered a rare but really well thought-out op-ed [link] on the topic of suffering. Titled The Value of Suffering, author Pico Iyer will appeal even to the many who claim to be “spiritual but not religious.”

Too often faith-leaders retreat into conspicuous silence on the question of how any could possibly profess the existence of a good God in the face of such unmerited and seemingly unmitigated suffering. A rare exception is Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, who courageously wrestled with the challenge the horrific Asian tsunami presented to Christian assertion of God’s benevolence. [link]

What gives me courage to finally take on this bedeviling topic, though it regularly gnaws at the edges of my consciousness, was a post today on Richard Rohr’s blog. [link]

His is not the final word — if by that we mean some rational explanation that dismisses all questions or doubt. However, it’s about as good as it gets. Rohr gets about as close as anyone to expressing our “truth” in a way that thinking-people will comprehend.

If you have persevered this far, I certainly hope you are curious enough to check-out the links to the New York Times and Rowan Williams articles above. Even if you choose not to check out these other sites, rest assured it doesn’t get much better than this from Richard Rohr:

Both [saints] Francis and Clare … let go of all fear of suffering; all need for power, prestige and possessions; any need for their small self to be important; and came to know something essential–who they really were in God and thus who they really were. Their house was then built on “bedrock,” as Jesus says (Matthew 7:24).

Such an ability to really change and heal people is often the fruit of suffering, and various forms of poverty, since the false self does not surrender without a fight to its death. If suffering is “whenever we are not in control” (which is my definition), then you see why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God. Then we become usable instruments, because we can share our power with God’s power (Romans 8:28).

Such a counterintuitive insight surely explains why these two medieval dropouts–Francis and Clare–tried to invite us all into their happy run downward, to that place of “poverty” where all humanity finally dwells anyway. They voluntarily leapt into the very fire from which most of us are trying to escape, with total trust that Jesus’ way of the cross could not, and would not, be wrong. They trusted that his way was the way of solidarity and communion with the larger world, which is indeed passing away and dying. By God’s grace, they could trust the eventual passing of all things, and where it was passing to. They did not wait for liberation later–after death–but grasped it here and now.

More than Happiness, May They Know Love

Exhausted but so very content, grateful and filled with hope… awash with memories!  After a morning at the Science Museum and a picnic lunch we said our goodbyes.

Tom, Cheryl and the six kids then packed into their SUV for a long drive to Canada. Parental strategy was to get the kids really tired so they’d be content sitting engrossed with their digital devices until falling asleep for the remaining seven hours en route to Winnipeg.

Our time together was less than 48 hours but the experience provided stories that will be recalled, retold and perhaps embellished for years to come. You heard one about 6 y/o Claire expressing sadness about her Grandma Karen’s death in my post yesterday. Here are a couple more:

With watermelon juice dripping onto our backyard deck I asked, “Where are you staying in Winnipeg?” One classically adolescent response flashed forth, “In a hotel!” Then Martha, who will be nine in August claimed her ground in the conversation, “Do you mean that literally or metaphysically?” Before I could close my gaping mouth twelve-year old Aidan harrumphs, “I think she meant metaphorically!” Honest to God — you cannot create better dialogue than this! My jaw is still ajar.

The kids requested Asian food for dinner so we headed off to our favorite buffet. The selection never disappoints; the colors are tantalizing; seeing is so much easier than reading a menu; and let’s get real, the price is right. After surveying the many heaping plates spilling onto our table, I randomly glanced to the left. There at the end was 4 y/o Evelyn adeptly digging into her choices with chop-sticks! Honestly! At her age I didn’t know rice came any other way than pudding with cinnamon — and you ate with silverware!

Saying our goodbyes, Tom again reiterated his request for us to come to Omaha to celebrate my 65th Birthday with them in August. That conjured a sobering thought I had quieted numerous times these days. I love these kids! Yet as I wipe watermelon from my chin, delight in their dexterity with Asian cuisine or stand in awe of Aidan and James building a geodesic dome (without instructions) at the Science Museum; I struggle with the fact that I will not live long enough to see what truly becomes of these children who mean the world to me.

All I have is hope! I have hope because there are families and children like these. I have hope their global awareness and insatiable curiosity will make the world a more peaceful and just planet than the one my generation is leaving them.  More than happiness, I hope they know love.

I hope they will learn every bit as much as they can. Then, I hope they use their considerable intelligence to serve others and not just themselves. I hope they become so grounded in their family, neighborhood, school and churches that they spontaneously create better cities, nations and a global community in which each and all have a place at the buffet table.

Personally, I hope — I really do hope — that I can remain intellectually curious, psychologically nimble, embracing of a changing world, letting go of my need to control, define or judge. I strive to embrace something more than optimism — rather, I hope always to rest in the assurance that others are now in charge.  Someday, I hope to yield to the One who is the Other.

Finally, here is what I really hope these children know more and more throughout their lives:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails… now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1Cor 13:1-13)

My Sister’s Legacy

Why do I have it so good? So many others bear untold pain, suffer losses that would break me or become innocent victims of natural disasters. Why is my life so easy, blessed, charmed? Truly, I have done nothing to deserve what I have received and am culpable of wrongs for which I have been mercifully freed of consequences.

My nephew/godson, his wife and their six children, ages 4 thru 13, are visiting these days. I’ve long compared being an uncle, and now grand-uncle, to being a grandparent… you get to have all the joy, satisfaction and fun without any real responsibility! It’s like leap-frogging parenthood and getting to have your grandkids first!

Yesterday an especially tender moment occurred with 6 y/o Claire. Her mom was showing her my parents’ 1931 wedding photo explaining that these were her Dad’s grandparents. Claire eagerly inquired, “Are you Grandpa Denny’s brother?” I explained, “No, I am your Grandma Karen’s brother.”  Her demeanor shifted, “She died… that’s sad.”

It’s very sad… and, extremely unfair! Karen died at 58 of a rare sinus cancer. Though she lived to see the birth of her first grandchild, none of her eleven grandchildren have any recollection of her. Yes, Claire, it’s very sad! I miss my sister dearly.  You will never fully know your loss in not having Grandma Karen in your life..

Having Tom, Cheryl and the kids here is great (but exhausting) fun and a rare treat given they live seven hours away. Today we are off to the Science Museum before they head to the women’s World Cup in Winnipeg. Yet, there is the gnawing question: why do I get these avuncular pleasures and Karen was denied grandmotherly experiences she earned and richly deserved?

I have no answers. Why does the Vice President have to bury a 46 y/o son today? Why was a neighbor with young children recently diagnosed with a debilitating illness? Why do floods destroy homes and drown victims in Houston? What have I ever done to deserve such a charmed life? Why do I have it so easy?

Just as most of us live with unmerited good fortune we struggle with the question of undeserved suffering. We strain for answers when “facts” make no rational sense. We can never “make sense” of life or death! We only learn wisdom through the awful grace of God. Such unmerited, gratuitous wisdom is perhaps the greatest gift an uncle or a Grandmother can share with those we love.

Claire, all I can assure you is that love endures.  No matter what, you like the rest of us are held within an enduring web of love.  Yes, you can count on this, your Grandma’s love endures!