Loving Extravagantly(er)(ish)

I’m not very good at grieving collectively.

There are people out there who want to embrace others when they’re hurting, but I prefer a dramatic retreat to a dark well, covered in the cozy blanket of music loud enough to close off the world. It’s here that I grieve through the clickity click of my keyboard, knitting the madness into something tangible.

And yet, there is a 9 year old tapping on my shoulder, wondering if she can have a blueberry bagel.

I want to snarl at this sweet thing, as I often do when she calls me out of my deep thought well. I want to be left alone to think, to mourn, to listen, to write, to hear the clickity click of my keyboard that brings so much comfort.

But to Love Extravagantly is to believe Love isn’t always “me first.”

Even in sadness.

Even in mourning.

Even in the deep well of my own comfort, when my 9 year old needs some affection.

So instead of snarling, this time I play Mancala.

And now that she’s in bed, this song comforts me in my dark well.

(Click here if you can’t see the embedded player).

And to the thirsty he will give water, from a river with no end

Wipe away every tear from our eyes
Death will be no more

All this mourning, all this crying
All this death we’ve seen, all these broken things…
…will end, all our pain
All this death we’ve seen, all the former things
…will end

Good Read: Bread Crumbs | Storyline Blog

Last week I had a dream about my mom. In my dream, a space ship crashed into the woods at the end of street where I grew up, and from the crash site emerged a robot that walked through the neighborhood.

Of course I took video of all this. But as I did, I noticed my neighbor was also taking video, and then was abruptly whisked away in a black Escalade. When I saw this, I ran through the neighborhood to my house, turned off all the lights, and hid under a side table.

(Clearly a subconscious mashup of E.T., The Iron Giant, and Super 8.)

But then my mother entered. In my dream, I was viewing all this as a third party observer, and there she was… feisty, flummoxed, and wondering what I was up to.

She was wearing pantyhose with slippers, a skirt, and only a bra on top. She carried a round brush, and I could see her hair was flat on one side, and fluffed to curly perfection on the other.

This was how my mother looked every Sunday morning as she got ready for church.

She demanded to know what was going on, but all I kept saying was “TELL THEM I’M NOT HOME.”

I could see the stress in my mother’s face – the pursed lips and the furrowed brow. She was unsure of what to do with me, which I’m sure was a common feeling she had when I was young.

The scene ended abruptly when I woke up, but the essence of my mom lingered, and I held on to her as reality pushed its way in like daylight breaking through the cracks of a treeline.

And that’s when it hit me how much I missed my mom.

Dementia and Alzheimers are cruel deseases. At times it feels like psychological torture because you’re not grieving someone who is dead, but someone who is right in front of you that you love dearly but is not always “in there.”

For a moment, I was Adam dreaming of Eden.  Adam, on the outside of the garden, suddenly getting a whiff of something in the old garden that he’d left long ago.  And that whiff brought it all back, remembering what once was.  And for a minute I enjoyed it, and then a sadness moved in.

via Bread Crumbs | Storyline Blog.

I read the above essay on Friday, my birthday, an occasion that felt sad for the first time in my life.

The essay goes on to suggest that perhaps our memories of Eden-times hint at the eternity that is “written on our hearts,” the eternity we’ve already experienced with Adam and will one day return to with Jesus.

And just like that, my wallowing transformed to worship, because I’m reminded that I’m not alone in my longing for Eden, and that a rescue plan for returning is already in place.

Thomas’ Question

World Trade Center, July 2000
Me in New York, July 2000

This morning the kids and I watched videos of the planes hitting the two towers, and videos of the towers coming down. We talked about what happened on this day ten years ago, why it was so confusing and scary, and what Bryan and I were doing when we first heard what was going on.

After asking a few questions about the planes and the pilot and the men who took over the planes, six-year-old Thomas said, “But why did the guy fly the plane if he knew he was gonna die?”

Thomas’ questions often make me stop and think. They’re always profound.

“Those men were so angry at our country, they were willing to sacrifice their lives to hurt as many people as possible,” I said. “Compare that to Jesus, who sacrificed His life because he loved us so much and didn’t want us to hurt anymore.”

Thomas just scrunched up his face, contemplating that chasm.

Tragic endings into love stories


“Maybe we’re not meant to be together.”

“He said he never loved me.”

“He told me he wants a divorce.”

“I can’t keep letting him treat me that way.”

“I don’t see how reconciliation is possible.”

“It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

“I can’t stop crying.”

These are soundbites from some of the conversations I’ve been having lately. It’s a bit agonizing to know that I can’t fix the complex web of other people’s problems, that I can’t solve it and make it better with more talking and little wine.

Some things will simply remain broken.

I love hearing stories of restored marriages, of recovery from addictions and healing from serious illness. What a great time to be on Team Jesus! He’s so awesome to mend our broken lives!

But then sometimes sin and selfishness corrupt a marriage so deeply that we reject the mending; the idols of our desires are so strong we are not open to being rescued; the tragedy of Adam so final that our bodies do not heal.

It’s more difficult to see Jesus working in these situations. Sometimes I don’t want his comfort because I’d rather he fix it. I don’t want to mourn a loss but rejoice in the miracle of restoration!

We sing a song in our church community called We Have Overcome, and recently – the day after I first heard one of these soundbites from a friend – this particular lyric stood out to me, and I burst into tears:

“…a savior who turns tragic endings into love stories, this is the God I know…”

Some of the endings to our stories are tragic. They crash and burn or slowly smolder; they sometimes catch us by surprise. But thankfully we are not in our own story – we are a part of God’s story, and his stories always end lovely even if brought through a tragic climax.

This is the God I know.

Image of invisible God
Stretched across a tree
And all to take my place
Oh, the divine mystery

A savior who turns tragic endings
into love stories
This is the God I know

You have overcome, You have overcome deathʼs sting
Celebrate the rising of a king
You have overcome, You have overcome, letʼs sing
The power of an everlasting king

The Day My Source of Heat Died (repost)

I woke up Sunday morning to a 59 degree house – the coldest it’s been since the seasons changed – so I finally decided to turn on the furnace. What used to be a simple flip of the switch is now a ceremony of sorts – I pause to remember, acknowledge, sometimes shed a tear. Turning on the heat is never the same anymore, because I remember so clearly the day it died. In honor of the man who was the source of so much warmth in my life – my stepfather – I now repost this essay from four years ago.

At precisely 5:30pm on Thursday afternoon, on the eve of a three-day holiday weekend in which all things were closed the next day, our furnace began making a screeching grinding sound that echoed in the vents throughout the house.

As Bryan and I stood in the kitchen assessing the nature of the sound, we both had That Look on our face. It is That Look that recognized the time of day on that particular holiday weekend, during that particular week where temperatures were at a record low for the Puget Sound Area. It was That Look that recognized how OBVIOUS it would be that a furnace would begin making such grinding noises at this particular moment in time.

A few minutes later the grinding stopped, and we went about our business of the evening.

Off and on all weekend we stopped and held our breath as the grinding came and went. We waited. We hoped. We crossed our fingers. We prayed the furnace would last through the weekend.

On Saturday afternoon – New Year’s Day – I got a call from my sister, Jody, who reported that Gordy seemed to be slipping away, letting go. She said I should think about coming home soon, and that his daughter, Pam, was already on an airplane.

Even though Gordy had been diagnosed eight months ago, this plunge still took me by surprise. Just a week earlier at Christmastime he was up and about, visiting family and eating lutefisk. It seemed we might get another month with him at least.

Upon hearing this news I did what I always to do cope… I started doing things. I cleaned, I packed, I researched airline ticket prices, I rearranged plans, I organized the kitchen cabinets. I kept moving.

Meanwhile, the grinding furnace got so bad that on Sunday afternoon we shut it down from the circuit breaker.

It was cold that weekend. Seattle was experiencing record-breaking low temperatures. We borrowed space heaters from friends and shuffled them around the house with us. We slept in ski hats and wools socks.

Monday morning, January 3rd, was a regular morning. I woke up, I took a shower, I fed Ruthie breakfast, I called someone to fix the furnace. Around 11am the phone rang.

I recently read an excerpt of Carole Radziwill’s memoir, “What Remains,” in which she describes what happens between the moment an event happens and when you find out about it, how she was sipping a glass of wine and reading Pride and Prejudice as her friend’s airplane spiraled downward into the ocean.

I was sleeping when Gordy died. While he drifted off into the peacefulness of the early dawn in his own bedroom, I was completely unaware that something significant was transpiring in my life, that I was losing the man who had anchored me throughout the confusing years of my childhood.

In the morning when I awoke, when I fed Ruthie breakfast and called the furnace repair guy, I had no idea that I had just experienced a loss.

At 11:00 a.m. when I picked up the phone, my mom was crying on the other end. Through her sobs I heard her say, “Gordy is walking the streets of gold.”

I was standing in the laundry room where I had been loading the washing machine. I was crying, and the doorbell rang.

Almost every significant event throughout Gordy’s illness is somehow tied to a major home maintenance project. When I first received the news that Gordy had cancer, Bryan and I were meeting with contractors who were bidding out the remodel of our basement. And now, as the news of his passing was still sinking in I walked a sales representative through my house pointing out air vents and faulty duct work.

People die. Life goes on.

Never before in my life – and probably never again – will that fact be made more clear to me.

Yesterday we finally turned on our new furnace for the winter season. It purred ever so quietly, and the air blew through the vents with a force of confidence.

I felt warm, and I remembered.

the ebb and flow of possibility

intoxicated5722.jpgI don’t think it’s a coincidence I’m reading through the book of Job during a time when we find ourselves without steady income – it lends itself to having clear perspective on what we do have.

We are healthy. Our children are adorable and well adjusted. We are wealthy in our friends.

It’s a funny thing about seasons that end – all those things you’ve been dreaming about doing but have been too tied down to explore, they suddenly seem possible.

We’re notorious for having 3am conversations after the dog or our bladder wakes us up and our minds are too wired to sleep again. These conversations ebb and flow between endless possibilities and the fear of losing our house. But so far we keep each other afloat, avoiding a mutual downward spiral.

ideas abound

Last night as I went to bed I felt heavy and emotionally exhausted. The weight of an unknown future was settling in on me, and I lamented over the seemingly endless cycle of grieving over the years – the death, burial, and resurrection of my will that occurs when Things Change and People Go.

But the light that appears in my tunnel reminds me I’m not the same woman as when I grieved the death of someone dear to me four years ago.

Since then I’ve grieved the loss of my emotional stability, my marital harmony, an outrageous income, failed expectations, missed connections, a dog, friends, and now, the loss of community we once had through a job. I’ve seen loss restored before, and it gives me hope. But I’ve also seen loss remain lost, and while technically I survived it, I carry around the weight of something not there.

I write this at 2am. Bryan and I woke an hour ago, and we assessed where we are in the emotional cycle of ebb and flow as we tried to get back to sleep. And where I’m at is this: whenever I experience loss it reminds me how much I rely on things staying the same. Why couldn’t Lucy be more like Scout? Why did Thomas have to learn to say “ganoga bar” and “bacado” correctly? Why can’t I get Ruthie’s hair quite the same way it was when she was three?

These creature comforts reveal my loss of identity – I am a second generation immigrant with one foot in the world I came to and another in the world I’m from. Job did not have this identity crisis – at least not from what I can tell in nineteen chapters. Job understood he belonged to God, and while he may have wished for death to relieve him of his suffering, he never cursed God for his loss. In chapter 12 beginning at verse 13 he says,

True wisdom and real power belong to God;
from him we learn how to live,
and also what to live for.
If he tears something down, it’s down for good;
if he locks people up, they’re locked up for good.
If he holds back the rain, there’s a drought;
if he lets it loose, there’s a flood.
Strength and success belong to God;
both deceived and deceiver must answer to him.

So for now I take comfort in knowing this is not some sort of cosmic accident. I don’t necessarily believe God is on his throne directing events like an operatic orchestra, but I am reminded of the paradox of his star hanging awesomeness while counting the hairs on my head. He is big, and approachable. He is mighty and gentle. He is warrior and judge and redeemer and comforter.

And as I head back to bed, he fills my mind again with endless possibilities.

Ebb and flow.

Six Feet Upper

I grew up around death. My father has a degree in Mortuary Science, and for many years when I was little he worked in a funeral home setting, counseling families and helping them prepare the services for their passed loved ones.

I saw the basement rooms full of flowers – tables spread with various stems, waiting to be arranged into beautiful bouquets. I saw the room with the cement floor centered around a drain, with a long narrow table in the middle. I grew up knowing that’s where a dead body rested while it was embalmed and prepared for viewing and burial.

When my grandmother passed – my dad’s mom – I remember my dad taking my small niece up to her open casket and touching her small hand to my grandma’s hand. He spoke gently to her, telling her it was okay to touch her, that this was just her body for us to say goodbye to, but Grandma was really with Jesus in heaven.

I grew up very aware of the physical attributes of death, even if weirdly so, according to my friends.

“Your dad does, WHAT?” they would say. It never occurred to me it should be strange, and their responses puzzled me. I didn’t understand why it was “creepy” that I sometimes spent Saturday mornings wandering the halls of my dad’s funeral home, poking around in dark rooms filled with caskets.

People died, and I knew my dad helped their families. I was proud of that.

Knowing the physical process of dying, though, doesn’t make the emotional response any easier. I’ve wrestled with the loss of Scout, our dog. She was declining in health, but her death still came suddenly, and somewhat unexpectedly. Bryan and I both agree she is the best dog either one of us has ever had, both in obedience and personality.

I’ve also experienced the loss of a parent – my stepdad, Gordy. And while their losses had drastically different impacts to my Universe (loss of a parent can’t compare to loss of a pet), they both left me aching for that Eden existence where there is no pain or loss.

Death reminds me that we were meant for Life, and something, somewhere, long ago, broke.

The ABC series, Boston Legal, ends every episode with Alan Shore (played by James Spader) and Denny Crane (played by William Shatner) drinking cocktails and smoking cigars on the balcony, sharing deep thoughts about whatever recent events transpired.

In last week’s episode, Shatner’s character, Denny Crane, asks, “Do you think in heaven I’ll have Mad Cow?”

(Mad Cow is his code word for the Alzheimer’s he’s been diagnosed with).

Spader pauses to take a drink, then says, “Denny, I think in heaven you will be as you were in the prime of your life.”

Denny Crane nods in contemplation. “Then I’ll be just as I am now,” he says and raises his drink to Spader.

I don’t think it’s an accident I watched this episode the night of Scout’s death, as my eyes were red and swollen from crying. Death of anyone or anything – a loved one, a dream, a way of life – leaves a gaping hole, and we long for it to be filled again. We find comfort in those things we lose, and we feel lost without them.

But like Denny Crane implied, each moment of my life is a miracle, each experience I’ve had is the best one I could ever have had. The prime of my life wasn’t yesterday, or when I was skinnier, or when Gordy was still alive – it is now.

And now is the time to enjoy it.

A good dog is hard to find.

Scout, Sept 11, 2002 – Nov 24, 2008

Scout, Sept 11, 2002 - Nov 24, 2008

We lost our dog, Scout, tonight. She passed away peacefully around 6pm, just after Bryan came home from work. He walked in the door, she smiled and wagged her tail a little at him, and then a few minutes later she was gone – as if she was waiting for him to come home.

She was sick over the weekend, and she hadn’t been herself for about a week before that. This afternoon I knew in my heart she was not going to make it. I don’t know how I knew – I just knew. I remember thinking I was afraid she would pass in the middle of the night without anyone around her. As it turns out, she was laying on the floor in the living room with me and the kids coming in for snuggles every few minutes, and when she passed we were all with her.

She was a great dog, a faithful friend, and a joy in our lives. She will be missed.

Grieving, as observed by michael azzerad

In a recent interview on KUOW’s Sound Focus, music writer Michael Azzerad reflected on his memories of friend, Kurt Cobain. His interview tapes with Cobain are the basis for the documentary, Kurt Cobain: About a Son.

Michael was so devastated by Cobain’s death, that he didn’t listen to these tapes for almost ten years after he died. Eventually, film director AJ Schnack approached him, wanting to hear the interview tapes for his documentary. So he got them out and the two of them listened to them for the first time in many years.

Michael said he was surprised to find he actually enjoyed hearing Kurt’s voice. At the time of the interviews he was relatively healthy, happy, and writing music, and you could hear Michael laughing in the background of the tapes as they talked. He said he wasn’t upset when he heard the tapes, as he thought he would be. Rather, the experience revived the many great memories he had of Cobain, and it made him laugh to think about them.

I was struck by this. Standing in the kitchen baking sugar cookies, I suddenly found myself identifying with a music writer I’ve never heard of who was grieving over the death of a famous friend. I haven’t exactly brought myself to look at any pictures of Gordy, or watch any video I may have of him, either, and I would likely crack if I heard his voice – I do miss his voice. But I was comforted that, over time, my grief will continue to morph from sadness to fondness of memories – as it has already begun to do.

Life, Loss, and chinese health balls

0710untitled441-thumb.jpgI am gathering those I love close to my heart this week. The fall brings memories of loss, and the appreciation of life – and the Seattle clouds and rain have swept in for the next nine months, deepening those feelings of solitude.

A close relative of my mother’s recently passed on, my cousin’s teenage daughter died in a car wreck a couple years ago this November, and Gordy’s cancer took a nose dive around this time, leading up to his death in January of 2005. I also just finished reading The Kite Runner, which is a sad, tragic book that left me aching at the idea of having unfinished business with someone who is now dead.

But even in this grief, I feel I am maturing. It is surreal to hold both life and loss together – equally appreciating both, becoming overwhelmed by neither. Bryan has a set of Chinese meditation balls – they are metal, and about the size of golf balls. When you hold them together in one hand, using your fingers and thumb to rotate them around, they not only massage the muscles in your hand, but make a soothing sound as well.

This is how I’m feeling these days about life and loss – embracing both in balance actually soothes me. I miss Gordy, but remembering the loss of a loved one only makes me hold those I have with me closer and not take them for granted.

When I think of Gordy now, I actually feel joy, because I am able to appreciate what we had apart from my missing it. I look at the fall leaves turning red, and I remember our times at the cabin in Northern Minnesota – building huge bonfires with the dead underbrush on our property and chopping firewood to store for the next year.

Recently, on a day trip to the Lake Wilderness Arboretum, Ruthie and Thomas wanted to go off-trail and stomp through the brush. I smiled at this because it is the exact thing I always asked of Gordy as we hiked through the woods on our property – “I don’t want to be on the trail, can we go through the deep, deep woods?”

So that’s what I did with Ruthie when she had to pee, we tromped through the deep deep woods so she could squat, and I told her that Grandpa Gordy would be so proud.

And that is how grief marches on, at least for me.


I’m feeling weepy this morning, with a lump in my throat that is ready to burst into emotion at the first sign of lowered defenses. Perhaps I am hormonal this week, but on this Monday morning – the first time I have slowed down enough to process since returning from Minnesota – there is much weighing on my heart that I have pushed aside in the busyness of the weekend.

I feel for my mom, who was so sad to return to an empty, quiet house when we left, magnifying her loneliness for Gordy; I think about my own grieving process, and how it feels to spend time surrounded by all the things that Gordy once touched – there are memories everywhere in that house; I am sad for my friends who have a sick baby, and are tired, and ragged, and discouraged, and afraid; I am sad that my house mate left this morning for new adventures on a different coast – she has left a hole in our hearts and home; I am sad for a friend’s broken relationship, and for another friend’s loss of hope in life.

On Saturday evening, in the midst of hearing some of this news, I busied myself with a new purse I bought on clearance. I chattered on endlessly to Bryan about all the pockets and zippers and places to keep my things, as if the bliss of something trivial will stave off the tragedy of more important things. It was shallow of me, and I knew this, but somehow it was my way of not falling apart when there was no time to do so.

But today I seem to be falling apart, and I seem to have the space to allow that to happen, so I likely will.

If you pray, please remember those who grieve, those who are sick, those who are helpless, those who are giving up, and those who love each and every one of these people.

Perhaps I am Drunk Blogging Again…

Today is my afternoon at The Met, drinking wine and eating goat cheese with toasted bread. I normally spend this time writing, and usually get 3-4 posts done, but I’m still not ‘feeling the love’ in that department. I’ve spent my time reading blogs, IM’ing Bryan, and generally just goofing around on the internet. It’s a bit of fresh air, actually, to just sit here and not accomplish anything.

I’m in a funk today, grieving over the situation with Scout, and wondering how it will all turn out. I know now, how I grieve. When Gordy was dying of cancer I was ignorant to what was happening until it was over. But I am aware now that my functionality shuts down, I’m tired all the time, and I want nothing more than to take a hot bath and go to bed early. Knowing this about myself, I continue to plow through the day, being as efficient as I can manage. But as soon as the kids are in bed I am too spent to start in on my usual evening activities.

And so it continues here, on my afternoon off. I cannot focus on any significant writing, but instead I chat with the gal behind the counter who knows I like pinot, and I tinker around on the internet, and I think about Ruthie asking about every dog she sees in a picture: Is that Scout, mama?

I am happy about my life. I am grateful for what I have. I love the people I know. But I am sad about my dog.

A Fallen Friend

ScoutI’m on Day 2 of crying the Ugly Cry due to an injury with Scout’s leg (our dog) that is causing us to make some tough decisions. She blew out her knee at the park the other day, and it looks like the only option for treatment is surgery. The cost estimate I was originally given was equal to about two and a half mortgage payments. I think of it in terms of mortgage payments to help give me perspective, because if I was going by emotion alone I would have immediately handed over my credit card.

I am very attached to Scout, and she is such a sweet dog and great with the kids, not to mention the added security I feel when Bryan is out of town. But as much as a part of the family as she is, neither Bryan nor I have ever imagined spending so much on a pet. Not imagining it, though, didn’t stop me from considering briefly, wishing fervently, and begging profusely. But in the end, I know it’s just not reasonable.

Today, though, I feel a little more empowered by information. I called three other vets, discovering the following information:

1. There are MANY different surgeries available, not just the one type originally presented to me
2. There are WAY cheaper vet surgeons available
3. The outcome for all types of surgeries seems to be within a similar range: lower activity and chance of arthritis

I have an appointment to meet with the surgeon from the original clinic I took her to, so I hope to use my powers of research to get some more information. But this has been a sad, stressful, and emotionally draining week.

Remembering Gordy

ruthie and gordy, May 2004

Today is the second anniversary of Gordy’s death from cancer. I have to be honest – and I feel a certain sense of betrayal to say this – but the grieving does get easier over time. I think I worried that if it ever quit being REALLY hard to think about Gordy, that I was forgetting him, or dishonoring his memory, or that maybe I didn’t love him as much as I thought I did.

But none of this is true. Over time the grief changes, and warm memories come out of nowhere – like when you walk into someone’s home and smell the burning wood and hear the crackle of the fire in their fire place, and you think of every fire you’ve ever sat next to in Gordy’s presence. Only, experiencing these memories no longer overwhelms you with grief, but brings a slight upward bend to the corners of your mouth as you think fondly of the Good Ole Days.