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Friday, October 1, 2010

Life of Love

Today marks four years since my beloved friend Matt Steele succumbed to brain cancer. As I still float in the wake of Claire Carey's death on August 14, I can do nothing but shake my head. There is nothing to say that truly communicates the deep pain of such loss.

To have loved two friends so much and walk with them through terminal illness and into death has been dreadful. The tragedy of their youth (Matt was 34, Claire was 35) makes it all the more awful.

It would be easy, even understandable, to become bitter as a result. What's the point of loving others only to lose them in such agonizing ways?

These days I cry easily. But I'm not sure that is so bad. To have my feelings always right near the surface feels risky, but also healthy. The emotions that come from the death of close ones are too strong to stay down. They well up whenever they want, whether I invite them or not. So I have gotten used to living with my heart being raw and unguarded. That is exhausting, to be sure -- so I'm grateful for the gift of time, which heals the top layers of the pain and gives me new skin to protect the deeper levels.

Though there is healing, I know I will never be the same. To have known such abysmal pain makes me much more sensitive to that of others. I see it, smell it, feel it, touch it. How do I respond when that happens? I can take my cue from what I read this morning in Ephesians 5:1-2 ~
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
While I would not recommend Eugene Peterson's paraphrase, The Message, for rigorous bible study, it is lyrical and refreshing for devotional reading. This passage is no exception.

I learned this "life of love" from other faithful mentors and friends who were patient with me when my ability and capacity for love was broken. One in particular, Ruth Schmidt, was like a mother to me. She was consistent, kind, generous to a fault, yet firm as well. I knew her for several years previous, but walked with her through the last three years of her life once she was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). When she died I was devastated. She had been a sure anchor and well from which I drew often. I was very tempted to wall off my heart and never truly lean on anyone again...

Eventually, I asked a few wise ones for help, and one gave me a simple tool that helped more than anything. She told me to create some rituals that would help me settle down, especially at night when my sadness was the most acute. So I started playing the same CD each night, half an hour or so before I went to bed. I would then climb into bed as the last songs started playing, and eventually was able to fall asleep to the same song each night for weeks. I risk sounding like a Hallmark commercial when I tell you that it was an instrumental piano CD by Jim Brickman -- but there it is.

The last song actually had lyrics that functioned as road signs that walked me out of the pit I was in, because they put words to my groaning. Here is the chorus:
Until the stars fall from the sky
Until I find the reason why
And darling as the years go by
Until there's no tears left to cry
'Til the angels close my eyes
And even if we're worlds apart
I'll find my way back to you...
By heart.
This life is not all there is. Someday I will be reunited with these beloved people, in Christ, for eternity. I feel their absences so frequently. But I am glad that they each left such deep impressions that I cannot forget them. Meanwhile, I live as fully as possible in this earthbound life. My grief is not appeased by other relationships... instead, I simply press on and continue to learn about what it means to live this risky, yet worthwhile, life of love. Christ is my model, my strength, my goal.

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