Seeds of Love

In the Bleak Midwinter

I am so sick of death.

It’s been a year of bereavement. Even before Daddy died we were mourning the cruel progress of disease, hearts fainting before the horrors of each new stage. There were bright moments of sweetness and light, to be sure, little triumphs of love and glimpses of a glory beyond our ken. But there were also moments I long to forget—and know that I never will.

In the midst of one of these more…challenging…seasons last spring, we found out that our darling Great Pyrenees and barn babysitter, Diana, was gravely ill. We brought her home from the emergency vet clinic with broken hearts, presumably to die. But after one night in the house, Di made a break for it—I found her at the barnyard gate, where her goat and sheep charges were keeping an eager lookout for her return. She wagged her tail with a pathetic effort, looking up at me with that gaze of hers that plunged right into my soul. Di and I had always had a very special relationship; from the very beginning she talked to me with her eyes, and I understood her.

“If I’m going to die,” she told me then, “I’m going to do it right here, in my barn, with my charges around me. Don’t make me leave my job until I have to.”

“All right, Di,” I told her, rubbing her silky head. “Have it your way.”

And she did. She rallied. God’s mercy and alternative veterinary medicine gave us hope. Our vet was cautiously optimistic, and I was determinedly confident. She started making her rounds again, patrolling the pastures and barnyard, and even frolicking a bit with our Pyr pup, Flora.

“I need a miracle, God,” I kept insisting. “I need You to let Di get well.”

Diana was the most valiant dog I have ever seen—her heart kept fighting, even after her body couldn’t. But at the end of May she gave up. And something inside of me gave up, too. We buried her on a hill in the eastern pasture—one her favorite spots, and one of the first places the sun touches in the morning. I’d never dug a grave before, and I know I wasn’t really that much help. But it made me feel a little less helpless to work beside my husband in the warm silence of that May night. Plunging that shovel again and again into that stubborn red earth with tears pouring down my face: it was the last thing I could do for her.

My Diana

~

Two weeks after Daddy’s funeral, I got the news that the wife of a childhood friend had been killed in a horrific accident, leaving three young children behind.

A few weeks later, my beloved housekeeper, Joan, died of cancer. For fifteen years of Friday mornings, Joan and I had kept this old place from coming apart at the seams, talking from room to room as we worked, tackling windows, woodwork, floors and cat hair with a rhythm that seemed almost choreographed. More than just a housekeeper, Joan was a dear friend and extra mother: I cannot tell you how many cans of Scott’s Liquid Gold we’ve gone through together—or how many hours I’ve spent propped against the kitchen counter taking a goodly dose of advice drawn from the wells of Joan’s practical wisdom. I loved her so much.

“I don’t know how to do Christmas without Joan,” I told Philip the other day.

(But there’s one thing I do know, and it’s that Joan would roll over in her grave if she could see the state of my heart pine floors. She took such pride in them, you’d think they were her own. I’ll never be able to maintain them to her standard.)

In November, Philip’s first cousin sickened and died rather suddenly. It was a hope-laced funeral. But another funeral.

I never want to see that stupid black dress again.

~

A few weeks ago found us racing our beloved pet Nubian goat, Puck, to a university veterinary hospital a couple of hours away. It was one of those maladies wherein every second counts—I could have kissed the ground when we finally pulled up in front of the large animal wing. The vets were skilled and confident, and set our hearts at ease; we hated to have to leave him, but we knew he was in the best hands in the entire state for the particular surgery he required. A week of persistent hope ensued, with twice daily calls from the doctor on the case, a few niggling concerns, and general reports of the sweetness of Puck’s disposition. Finally, I decided that he just needed to see me in order to rally enough to come home, so I filled up a bag with his favorite greens from the farm, cedar and pine, and headed across the state.

He did perk up when he saw me; everyone marveled at it. But, after all, Puck was my baby—I’d had him since he was less than twenty-four hours old, and, for all his—puckishness—he would let me scratch behind his long Nubian ears and kiss his Roman nose just as long as I pleased. In the evenings, we would walk back to the barn together, my arm slung over his back. He’s even been known to let me tie Christmas ribbons around his neck.

So, of course he was glad to see me, and I him. And even though the treat of the greens I’d brought had to be forestalled because of a second surgery the vets deemed entirely necessary that day, he knew I’d brought them. And he knew I was there. I got to spend a lot of time with him in his stall, and when the surgeons were ready, I was able to walk with him all the way to the surgery bay.

I told him I loved him. (If you’ve never had the love of a Nubian goat in your life, you’re missing out: they’re sensitive, playful, wise and loyal—and what’s more, they love you back.) Then I went to the car to wait.

As I waited, a dark anxiety crept over me. I thought of something a wise older friend once said: that she was learning to praise God, not just for deliverance from crisis, but in the very moment of crisis itself. It was worth a shot—the darkness was so suffocating I had to do something. So I thanked Him for everything I could think of. I prayed for everyone I knew who had known sorrow that year. I prayed for the refugee crisis and I prayed for my sweet, sick goat. I praised God for the comfort of His presence I had known in the past, and I praised Him—falteringly—for withdrawing that comfort.

And I remembered something—or, God brought it to mind, which is more likely.

I remembered back in May, after Diana died, how I’d wandered for days in a paralyzing fog. Daddy was doing so much worse I could neither believe nor bear it; my heart shrank from each visit with him. And then I’d come back home to a world in which there was no Di. It was awful.

I couldn’t pray; I couldn’t talk to God. I couldn’t feel joy.

I couldn’t feel anything, really, but this dull ache of sadness. And even that was blunted, numb.

One morning I went through the motions of a prayer time, but I didn’t know what to say.

“I’ve been mad at You in the past,” I whispered. “I’m not mad at You anymore—I’m afraid of You.”

The moment the words were out of my mouth it was as if something unfurled in my heart. I suddenly had this startlingly clear mental image of how I must have appeared to God at that very minute: balled up like an armadillo, curled imperviously around my own heart to protect it from further bruising. In an instinctive act of subconscious self-defense, I had rolled myself into a big ball of ‘No’.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t get to God—God couldn’t get to me. I believe that He respects our free will too much to violate it, even out of earth-shattering love. But He woos and He waits—which is incomprehensibly astonishing. And when the moment is right, He pulls back the tiniest corner of the veil between what we can see and what is real.

The pain is real, yes. But the joy—and the love and the heart of redemption behind it all—is more real.

Armed with this rather unflattering picture of myself, I began to see how resisting the “bad stuff” in life was essentially denying me of the “good stuff”—the tender mercies and comfort of God; hope, joy and peace; the tang of adventure and the sweet song of dreams. The psychologists all affirm it: shutting down to one emotion is shutting down to all—it’s why people wake up one day unable to feel anything.

It seems natural enough to protect our hearts from grief—to grimly endure or anesthetize with busyness or distraction or exhaustion. But to protect our hearts from grief is to protect our hearts from love. And that’s no way to live.

I had forgotten. I had forgotten that the opposite of joy is not sadness, but fear. I had forgotten (again) that joy and sorrow are twin eggs of the same nest. I had forgotten that love is always worth the pain—always.

I had forgotten that battered hearts are the most beautiful in the end.

And so, I sat there in the early light, with my hands open, whispering ‘Yes’.

Yes to losing Daddy in such a slow and tragic way. Yes to the complexity of life. Yes to the death of my darling Diana and Yes to all the creatures I’ve loved and lost.

Yes to the fact that the seed of Love is shaped exactly like a thorn.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

And then the miracle happened: the sun started coming out again.

~

“Stay open,” I pleaded with my own heart, sitting there in the car, waiting for news of Puck. “Stay open—the love is worth it.”

Into that little capsule of pleas and imperfect praise came the sudden, sharp ringing of my cell phone: Puck hadn’t made it through the surgery.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so alone in my entire life. Even in all the heartache of the past year, there had always been a hand to hold—my husband’s, a friend’s, my sister’s. Now I was all by myself, in a strange town, with a grief that just felt like one blow too many.

I cried all the way home, back over all those hours and miles, in rain and rush-hour traffic—for my darling Puck, for Joan, for Daddy, for suffering friends, for the sorrow of the whole world. It’s a wonder my little roadster didn’t fly apart under the pressure of such grief. But it was all just too much. Blinded by pain and tears, I raised a wordless lament, pounding the steering wheel for good measure. But underneath, a rebellious little refrain was gathering, mounting to a final crescendo of agony:

This is not the way it’s supposed to be.

This is not the way it’s supposed to be. All this sadness and bad news and dying. All these anxious phone calls, wars, scary test results, car accidents, terminal diagnoses, ruptured marriages, dogs with cancer, infertility, prodigal children. We hate it, not only because it all hurts like hell, but because eternity itself is encoded in our hearts, telling us that things should be different—in fact, will be, someday. But that doesn’t seem to help much when we’re staggering beneath the bereavement of the way things are.

Of course we feel this way—of course.

But it’s only when we bare our hearts to the pain of this brutal paradox, that our hearts are fully open to the beautiful mystery: God sent His Son right into the very middle of this mess. He broke His centuries-long silence with a baby’s cry. Almighty God became helpless, humble, vulnerable to the hurts and evils of this world, so that we—and our hurts into the bargain—might be redeemed. What on earth does redemption mean but to get back all that is rightfully ours, not because we’re good enough, but because we’re loved enough? Not because we deserve it, but because it’s the way God wanted it to be all along. The story is clear all the way through the Bible: God doesn’t want our sacrifices and our stuff—He wants our hearts. And I believe that He is gathering up everything that has ever broken our hearts to make it all right again in our redemption. I don’t claim to know what that means, particularly this side of heaven. But if there’s one thing I’m not afraid of (and, believe me, there are plenty of things I am!), it’s that God will turn out to be less loving, less good, less tender than I always hoped He’d be.

~

I wept when I got home that night and found Philip and Bonnie, our Aussie pup, waiting for me on the back steps. I wept when I went down to the barn in the dark, into the goat stall that was now only Hermione’s and Perdita’s. I wept when I thought about Puck’s untasted Christmas greens, and about all the children to whom I’d have to break the news.

Puck

~

Years ago, not long after Philip and I got married, I was lamenting playfully with some of my girlfriends over my fierce sentiments surrounding Christmas.

“I cry when we put the tree up, and I cry when we take the tree down!” I chirped.

Everyone laughed, but a well-intentioned older woman in our midst spotted a teachable moment.

“Lanier, someday you’re going to have a lot more to cry over than taking down your Christmas tree,” she said.

Her words fell like a pall, and everyone stopped laughing. I was too shy to say it out loud, but mentally I replied, “Well, then, I’ll cry about that, too.”

She was right, of course.

But so was I.

Because if the buffeting of years has done anything, it’s deepened my delight in Christmas. It’s made my Dayspring’s visit more precious than ever. The candles on my Advent wreath blooming out against an early winter twilight reach some deeper, keener place that sorrow has opened in my soul. The dawn of a December morning baptizing the world with rose-hearted gold is almost too beautiful to bear, for I know what it points to.

For passed is yon dully night
Aurora has the cloudes pierced,
The Sun is risen with gladsome light…

And when we sit quietly in the barn in the evenings and listen to the contented clucks and grunts and hay-munchings of our animals, my heart kneels to the wonder of it all. O magnum mysterium.

The sheep love their Christmas apples!

Our hearts are battered. There is an empty chair at our table, and a bright spirit has gone out of our barn.

And, yet—strangely, impossibly—I have more to celebrate, not less.

A fragment of a verse has been humming away at the back of my mind this Advent season, so persistent I finally looked it up. Yet will I rejoice…

It comes from the book of Habakkuk, that singular little Old Testament tussle with the most bothersome question of all: if God is supposedly so good, why does He permit such awful things to happen? It’s a one-sided quarrel with God (I might know a thing or two about those), but after a series of complaints and honest questions, the good prophet wraps up his argument with one of the most beautiful assertions of faith in the whole Bible:

Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls:

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

Why? Because He is the God of salvation. Because God is not limited by appearances or bound by our circumstances. Because there is always, always more to the story—as George MacDonald said, “Good is always coming.” What the prophets saw afar off we now celebrate in present actuality: Immanuel. God did not leave all this brokenness unredeemed. He went straight to the very saddest thing of all—our separation from Him—and He made it untrue.

~

Sorrow isn’t meaningless, and it isn’t permanent. But it’s tempting to think He owes me something for all this sadness. Okay, I reason with Him, I know there’s beauty in the bad. Now do something good.

Which only goes to show how much I have to learn.

Last year's plum pudding

~

Advent, like grief, is such a keen time, loaded with expectations and longings for impossible things. Advent is audacious with hope; it is pregnant with miracle. Which is why, I believe, it’s also haunted with the inconsolable sting of the way things ought to be. More than any other season of the year, perhaps, we feel our loss and our lack; we grieve alike for things that are no more and things that never have been. We all want our own Christmas miracle, our own personal annunciation and supernatural fulfillment.

(I want my Daddy back. So bad I can hardly stand it.)

But when God comes to us bringing good, it’s usually not what we expect.

Jesus’s birth was exactly not what people were expecting.

And yet, God in Christ flung Himself over the chasm between the way things are and the way things ought to be. This yearly celebration of that fact gives all of us permission to acknowledge the paradoxes and seeming discrepancies of life—to open our hearts and hands to the life that is, to the gifts just waiting to be mined in our present circumstances. To the Light the darkness just cannot comprehend or overcome, and the Dawn that knows no setting.

Fra Giovanni was right: No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today.

So was Wendell Berrry: We live the given life, and not the planned.

And yet we will rejoice. We will rejoice and rejoice and rejoice because He didn’t do it our way. We will honor the re-routed life of an obscure young Jewish girl and we will search our own hearts for the least glimmer of such trust. We will drag live trees into our homes, knowing full well we’ll be cleaning up needles and sap for the next twelve months, and spangle them with some of the most beautiful and breakable things we own. (I mean, think about it—it’s gloriously ludicrous!) We will stand in drafty cathedrals choking over carols we’ve known all our lives while angels throng the air around us. We will wear ourselves out over holly boughs and flour and spices and prickly cedar and roses and cakes and casseroles and Yorkshire puddings as if our King were coming for dinner. We will remember more lighthearted days, when we thought things would be like that forever, and we will smile at our beloved ghosts and thank God that those days have been. We will cherish that bright sadness hovering over the crèche in the corner of the room, and lean into the Story all over again. We will step out into the frosty silence of Christmas Eve and look at the stars and suddenly find them brilliant, elongated, expanding under a quick burden of tears.

(Perhaps we will even steal down to a barn at midnight, if we happen to have one handy, just to see the animals kneeling.)

We will, if only for one miracle-laden feast of days, draw near to the greatest mystery of all time: God is with us because He loves us.

Dancing with Daddy at my Christmas party, 2005

~

Isn’t that just the astonishing thing about Christmas—that after all the centuries of hurt and brokenness and disappointment and despair, the world still turns itself upside-down for joy?

As the years pass, I’m less and less concerned about getting caught up in the trappings of the season for their own sake. More and more I’m thankful for all these very touchable, tangible ways to honor the mystery, to draw near with all my senses, to create a space—through ritual and tradition, taste, touch, scent, sight, sound—for eternity to intersect with domesticity.

It’s not just commercial to celebrate Christmas, or indulgent, or naïve. It’s brave, friends. It’s courage incarnate.

~

If you’re hurting this Christmas, know you are beloved of a God whose special concern is the brokenhearted.

If you’re rejoicing, don’t let fear have your joy, even for a moment.

And know that you, all of you whose eyes may happen to fall on these words, are dear to me. For you I pray on this frosty December morning, that, now and forever, your day may break and your shadows flee away.

"There is radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see--and to see we have only to look." ~Fra Giovanni

26 Responses to “Seeds of Love”

  1. Lanier, my heart hurts that your year has seen so much sorrow. It seems so wrong. But so much of this earth is so wrong, and I rejoice to know that the little shimmers of hope that show up arent leading toward nothing – they’re leading to beautiful reunions with all those who were lost.

    I love you – thank you for crafting your posts so carefully. Merry Christmas. <3

  2. Aimee Bumgarner says:

    Oh Lanier. I never comment, because I fear my words fall so short, but I read each and every one of your posts and tonight I just had to write something, to acknowledge this beautiful gift. To let you know how much your writing means to me. To say thank you for your courage, dear heart. I have thought of you and Phillip so often this year. I’m so deeply sorry for the suffering this past year has brought you, and you are never far from my heart or my prayers. Sending thoughts of peace, love, joy, and hope to you both, this Christmas and always.

  3. Jody Collins says:

    Lanier, as only God could orchestrate, I just read that very passage from Habakkuk not 30 minutes ago, referenced in HWSmith’s book “The Secret of the Christian Life.”
    ‘Although’ and ‘yet’ such powerful words….and I was sitting here thinking of a way to write about it myself. Perhaps I don’t need to now, the Divine Librarian Himself making it clear the words are just for me today (well, and maybe those other friends reading :-).
    These lines spoke volumes to my heart,
    ” More than any other season of the year, perhaps, we feel our loss and our lack; we grieve alike for things that are no more and things that never have been.”
    It’s the comparison trap, I think, “my life should look like so and so’s, my words should sound like so and so’s, my life should be more happy….” but it is the life we have been given.
    Your words make that life a more beautiful place.
    Thank you for baring your heart to us in this space, the beauty is shining through the brokenness.

  4. Anita says:

    First, I want to say “Thank you!” for those lovely books I received this week. Absolutely enchanting to open that package.

    Thank you, also, for braving the cold, cruel, impersonal world of the internet to post vignettes of your life. They are beautiful and moving.

    All those feelings you refer to in this post, I have them too. But, I don’t have the strong faith that you have. I wish I did. I seek and I cry. I study and ponder. I have had times of joyous belief, only to spring back into the doubting self. I say that I am a Doubting Thomasina.

    Your posts and the writings of a few others, beckon me onward. These words help me to think that, yes, maybe….may be.

    Just yesterday, I was saying that our home is so much more alive because of our pets. One of our dogs wasn’t here yesterday. That little puff of energy livens up our other two outside dogs and brings a joy to all. It was sure lacking yesterday. He will be back tomorrow. Our indoor dog, a Basset hound, speaks while making eye contact. It is a muffled, doggy speak, but we know she is talking in her way.

    My utility room doubles as a pet nursing home. When the guys get too old and frail to be constantly outside, they move in. A couple of years ago, we had an 18 year old cat, a fifteen year old cat, and a 16 year old dog living in there….together. Mercy me, that was crazy! I would come home from town, ready to be just left alone and have my tea only to be greeted with knocked over water bowls, litter scattered all over the floor, things turned over and all of them screaming for something to eat, never mind the readily available food in their bowls. One of the cats and the dog would fuss all day. The cat would purposely agitate the dog and the dog would bark and growl all through the day. But then, you could go to break up the fuss and they would be back to back on the doggy bed. Asleep. They wore me out. But when the dog died, leaving the cats, it was such a stone cold silence. I had not realized until then how I loved all that crazy racket.

    I have lost many pets over the years, it never gets easier. I just believe, that if there is an afterlife for us, that the animals will be there. Our guardian angels.

  5. Mary Miller says:

    Lanier,
    Lancia shared your post on her Facebook page this morning. As I slowly read your words I found my heart crying, “yes, yes, oh yes!” and fond childhood remembrances surfaced, our dear Nubian goats, my precious ginger cat ripped from our lives by meandering coyotes, loss, joy, purpose. And more, more questions, nights, decades of wresting with God, “why”. This year I have been able to accept with grace the joy of praising our Savior in suffering and for suffering. Thank you.

  6. Debby says:

    Oh thank you for sharing, such encouraging words. May God be most glorified in all our lives. I’m reminded of Paul’s words “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all so we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen for what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal” (please know that I don’t mean what you have gone through has been light or momentary, but that our precious saviour is bringing all things together and we will one day get to see and truly praise him for all he has done).

    Even though I don’t know you I have been praying and praying for you that the God of all comfort would fill you with peace beyond all understanding. I praise my Father for the work he is doing in your life.

  7. Marty says:

    I’m so sorry for your losses. But you’ve left such a wonderful memorial for them. They will live on not only in your heart but also in the hearts of all your readers. I hope you and yours have a brave and blessed Christmas. Thank you for the inspiration of this post.

  8. […] Lancia E. Smith | Dec 21, 2015 | Blog | Lanier Ivester released Seeds of Love on her own beautiful website – Lanier’s Books – and with […]

  9. Judy says:

    Lanier,

    A prayer for all in your world (and mine) tonight.
    “Watch thou, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give thine angels charge over those who sleep. Tend thy sick ones, O Lord Christ; rest thy weary ones; bless thy dying ones; soothe thy suffering ones; pity thine afflicted ones; shield thy joyous ones, and all for thy love’s sake.”
    – Augustine of Hippo (354-430AD)

    I read your post shortly before attending a “Nine Lessons and Carols” service yesterday, so it was fresh with me as the choir sang (a new to me carol), “Sing lullaby!”. Here’s the final verse, sent with good wishes that you will be blessed with joyful hope on Christmas Day!

    Sing lullaby!
    Lullaby! is the babe awakening?
    Sing lullaby!
    Hush, do not stir the Infant King.
    Dreaming of Easter, gladsome morning.
    Conquering Death, its bondage breaking:
    Sing lullaby,
    – Sabine Baring-Gould

  10. Martina says:

    Lanier, your writing has always been outstanding. But grief and the experience of loss gave it a new, heartwrenching quality. I am amazed how brave you are – to be able to put those incredibly sad experiences into words. To be brave enough to share them. To be brave enough to go on living at all…
    I wish you wouldn’t have had to go through so much to achieve this new, mature quality. But I am glad and thankful your ability to write helps you to incorporate all this in your life.
    Thank you for being so open here.
    I will think of you and your dear ones on Christmas.

  11. Amy says:

    Thank you for your beautiful transparency!

  12. Diane says:

    Thank you, Lanier……..for so many of us, you have expressed the longing that Advent and Christmas bring as the joy and the sorrow intermingle, and we yearn for that future Day when our faith will be sight! How great will be our love in Glory for the One who has loved us here with an “inestimable Love!”

    I pray that the Lord will deal tenderly with you in the coming year and allow you to gain new strength from His very near, and dear, abiding presence.

  13. Karen says:

    I’m new to your site, but want to encourage you that this particular post is a good, clear working out of what we must all struggle through. I won’t burden you with my own losses – at Christmas – that make me a fellow pilgrim, but am very excited that you did find the kernels – this is WHY He came, and that joy takes courage. These are hard-earned truths, and stained with tears. I do actively celebrate and look for joy, everywhere it may be found. Sometimes my feelings are reluctant to join the party. Thank you for expressing these truths in such a winsome way. And – I’m so sorry for all your losses.

  14. Sparrow says:

    Wow, that was a touching and deep post! I just discovered your blog looking up reviews of D. E. Stevenson novels..just wanted to say thank you for what you shared. I too have discovered that at the bottom of sorrow is unceasing, unstoppable joy pouring forth from the Love at the heart of it all! I love how you said God will always turn out to be not less but more loving than we’ve ever imagined!

  15. Marie says:

    Merry Christmas dear Lanier!

  16. Anna says:

    Many thanks and Christmas wishes from the distant Kiev, Ukraine

  17. […] “But it’s only when we bare our hearts to the pain of this brutal paradox, that our hearts are fully open to the beautiful mystery: God sent His Son right into the very middle of this mess. He broke His centuries-long silence with a baby’s cry. Almighty God became helpless, humble, vulnerable to the hurts and evils of this world, so that we—and our hurts into the bargain—might be redeemed.” –Lanier Ivester […]

  18. Josie Ray says:

    Lanier,

    I think that the Lord has blessed us so much in this country that, though St. Peter says to “set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed,” more than half of our hope is set on this life…the other seems so far off in the distance and we have to live now! But when things here become unbearable, then is the time to cast more of our hopes forward (think fly-fishing) into the unseen, based on the promises. Do you know the hymn, “Beyond This Land of Parting?” It is a good, solid forward cast, and always brings welcome, hard tears during times of pain or loss. “This World is Not My Home” is a good follow-up. Kneeling and singing these before God brings, well, sobs, cleansing, realigned hope.

    Regarding being afraid of God, it can be hard to maintain the idea of “Father” when you really want to just whimper, “Please stop beating me.” Several years ago, things were so difficult that my strained faith could no longer think of Him as a friend. In an act of desperation to hold onto ideas of His goodness (because you think at Him, crying, “*I* would never do this to someone *I* loved!”), I had to think of the things I love about Santa Claus (kind, loving, delighted at giving gifts that delight) and project them onto God so that I could continue praying to Him. I found that I could suddenly ask Him for everything that I *really* wanted, without feeling restrictive “shoulds” or political correctness. I could trust His goodness and love, dream of delightful wishes, the way I thought things should be, know they would delight Him, too, and ask for them unashamedly…as big and impossible things as I could think of that I really wanted changed. Anything. Just this past summer, God did something kind for me, and I heard quite clearly, “Santa Claus gives gifts once a year. I give them every day.”

    I’m afraid that, from experience with grandmothers and (sorry) even pets, I gently disagree with your friend who said that you won’t forget things about your father. My suggestion is that, over the next year, you write prodigiously every little thing that you can remember about him. Just last night I was reading journals from ten years ago, and could see that I remembered things from my childhood then that I don’t now. And my siblings fill in my memory with expressions that our grandparents used to use, ones that I never thought I would forget.

    While you write, look for the ways in which you are like him and can be like him, and copy those onto another sheet. Because the best way to keep him here, even to “bring him back,” is to very deliberately become him in the ways that are natural to you as his child. You *know* that he was needed in this world. Which attributes that are needed can you become? When you put on his hunting jacket, let him, well, flow into you. Pray to God and ask your father, too, which of his traits, some perhaps already known, some perhaps not yet expressed, that you can keep in your family, in your community, in your circle of friends, in your own life, by becoming them. Then, I think, he will be present to you in a new way and it will be a secret, dear project between the three of you.

    You know that it is we, now, who have to step into the shoes of these greats who pass. If he shouldn’t be gone, then be him, in the sense of being a deliberately fuller version of yourself. Those genes of his are in there, as well as his spiritual heritage. Start deliberating unearthing them and expressing them. Then he will always be here, as long as you are. Someone once looked at my face and said, “____ _____ (my father’s name) will always live as long as you are alive.” (They said this and he is not even deceased.) But, spiritually, it is my grandmother who will always be here as long as I am. And she is with Jesus.

    As always, God bless you. And, So. Beautifully. Written.
    Kindest thoughts,
    Josie Ray

  19. […] smile, in my sister’s voice singing forgotten lullabies from Charlotte’s Web, even in celebrating Christmas, as my friend Shanna reminded […]

  20. Michelle says:

    My words will certainly fall short. Your words do not. Thank you. Beautiful. Enough to meditate for a year and still have much to learn.

    God bless and my prayers remain with you,
    Michelle

  21. Esther says:

    Thank you, Lanier. This was a very healing post, and my favorite one so far. There is a passage in James Stewart’s The Strong Name (pps. 165-166), that reminds me of you.

    “The real healers of the wounds of mankind are those whose own peace has been bought at a price, behind whose understanding and compassion and strong calm there lies some tale of Peniel, some deep, ineffaceable memory of a valley of shadow, and a lonely way, and a grim wrestling in the dark. Mary Webb’s lovely poem ‘A Factory of Peace’ describes it well:

    ‘I watched her in the loud and shadowy lanes
    Of life; and every face that passed her by
    Grew calmly restful, smiling quietly,
    As though she gave, for all their griefs and pains,
    Largesse of comfort, soft as summer rains,
    And balsam tinctured with tranquillity.
    Yet in her own eyes dwelt an agony.
    “Oh, halcyon soul!” I cried, “what sorrow reigns
    In that calm heart which knows such ways to heal?”
    She said–“Where balms are made for human uses,
    Great furnace fires, and wheel on grinding wheel
    Must crush and purify the crude herb juices,
    And in some hearts the conflict cannot cease;
    They are the sick world’s factories of peace.” ‘ “

  22. Josie Ray says:

    Lanier, please forgive my many suggestions. Not being able to bear others’ pain well, I rush in with remedies. There is no remedy for this, I know. With an idea of how you love, comes also an idea of the magnitude of your sorrow and your strength in sorrow.

    Your wisdom in keeping your heart open inspires me: the Blessed Virgin Mother surely did the same. An additional, not remedy, but comfort/lifeline: you may want to search images for the Sacred Heart of the Blessed Mother and set one as your background or tuck it onto your desktop. To see the sword piercing her heart…the empathy of someone who loves you well is comforting (she is our spiritual mother, Rev. 12), and also to recognize, “Yes! That’s precisely how I feel,” to have it named, can be a relief.

    “I believe while I tremble; I trust while I weep.”
    –Charlotte Bronte, Villette

  23. Candace says:

    I needed to read this today. Thank you so much for writing it, Lanier. I read it with tears in my eyes, but a heart that whispered “Yes” to every word. Blessings.

  24. Jody Byrkett says:

    O Lanier,

    Thank you for your vulnerability to express your sorrow—and your purposing to keep your hands and heart open to God. I can’t tell you how deeply this resonated in this season… But thank you.

  25. […] down upon our heads. We’ve laughingly called it a “pile-on of goodness,” but, in the light of the sorrow we’ve known and the grief we’re walking through now, it’s a situation we’re only too thankful to contend […]

Leave a Reply

Please leave these two fields as-is: