The Vulnerability of Autumn

04_weird_ways_world_autumn_economy_eversteI held the newspaper clipping in my hand and read the headline over and over.

It was an obituary. Simple and harmless enough, and yet the words on the page held tremendous power over me.

He was dead.

A man that had tortured my youth and reappeared time after time in my nightmares was no longer a risk to me. He could never just appear in a public place and make my heart stop or cause me to run out of a building in search of an adequate hiding place and there was finally a guarantee that he would never be able to hurt me or anyone else again.

I honestly don’t know what the obituary said. I’m sure it had all the typical stuff: loving father, devoted husband, grandfather, yada, yada, yada, but all I as I look back, all I really remember was reading the name and something about his dying.

He had successfully passed from this earth leaving me holding onto feelings of fear, anxiety and shame that I spent decades trying to keep hidden from myself and those around me.

I felt as though I should have been dancing in the streets celebrating the death of my abuser but instead, feelings of anger and frustration welled up inside me. I struggled with worry, concerned that bitterness had taken over; that I was unable to let go of the pain and feel the relief this death should offer me…

…and then it hit me.

I wasn’t able to celebrate or even feel relief from his passing because I had some hard work to do first.

This was a season of autumn – a moment when the armor that I had used to cover up this pain had to be ripped aside and the raw, bloody, painful mess of my memories had to be exposed so growth and healing could begin.

I had to become vulnerable.vulnerability-fishin-boat-1024x565-780x430

Sure, I could have chosen to quickly cover that memory right back up, tack the armor back in place and walk away, pretending that nothing ever happened, but not only was this not healthy for me, it wasn’t what God desired for me. Instead, God desired for me to use this season to heal and prepare for a season of new growth and beauty. He did this for me then and continues to do it now for me and for every single one of us. And just to remind us that this is part of His plan, the Lord created Autumn.

Every year at this time Mother Nature strips herself of the external decoration that blossomed around us from Spring to Summer. The leaves which graced the arms of each tree turn to glorious new colors and then wither and die. The buds hide themselves from the cold and snow to come so they can greet us again in springtime. As humans and people of faith, we also must have times where we allow ourselves to shed our external garments, so to speak, to prepare for the chance to change and grow emotionally and spiritually.

God offered me just such an opportunity the day I received this obituary but as you might expect, this change was not then nor never will be easy.

Joyce Rupp, in her book Fresh Bread, wrote that seasons of change like this are times when we allow ourselves to become vulnerable. Just as the removal of the leaves on the trees leaves each spindly little branch is entirely exposed to the elements, vulnerable to the ravages of wind, snow and ice, when we allow ourselves to be stripped of our exterior protection, we become vulnerable to those around us. Our culture tells us that vulnerability is something to be avoided; that to be vulnerable only opens the door to criticism, rejection and perhaps even abuse. But vulnerability is so much more than that. Without being vulnerable, we would never be able to accept the blessings that God has in store for us – blessings like love, friendship, laughter, art and renewal. Without vulnerability, we cannot grow to be the men and women He designed us to be.

vulnerability-quote-brene-brownIt’s as if we are each a crystal vase. We could choose to be stored safely away in a box, surrounded by bubble wrap, guaranteed never to be chipped or cracked and remain “perfect”, but by making this choice, we also guarantee we would never be able to see the beauty that God has created us nor would we be seen for the beautiful creations that we are. God’s light couldn’t shine through us creating dancing rainbows of light on the wall for all around to enjoy nor could we hold within us the beautiful gifts God designs for us.

It seems odd to be thankful for an obituary, but I realize now that I would never be the person I am today were I not able to use that tiny piece of newspaper to shed myself of some of my protective garments and start afresh. Life is like that. Sometimes it’s the strangest little things that offer the greatest challenges and rewards.

Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us that our lives are full of seasons and each of these seasons has a purpose. Whatever season you are in right now, try to remember that even in the most seemingly desolate of seasons, there is a purpose. Reach up and know that God is there to walk with you through each moment. If you’re finding the season too challenging, reach out. There are people right beside you that are willing to walk with you. If you don’t feel that’s true for you, contact me. I’m here and I’m willing to help guide you to places where you will be nurtured and cared for.

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Hard to Say Goodbye

13667727_10206694363826567_1814928283392333504_oThe blue lights of the sanctuary covered the back wall and reflected off the horns that were scattered across the stage. Trumpets, coronets and flugelhorns all caught the light and reflected it out to the seats below creating an atmosphere that was at once soothing and sad, much like the jazz that my friend had played on them.

I was walking in to say my goodbyes along with several hundred other people, all of whom were touched in some way by this man.

His death was unexpected and heartbreaking. He was a grandfather, husband, brother and father – all of the things one would expect of a man of a certain age – and yet he was so much more.

As a musician, he challenged everyone he played with to be better; to be more than they were before the set started. As a man of faith, he carried with him a sense of peace and joy that exuded through every part of his being and showered down on those he came into contact with. I don’t doubt that he had days of uncertainty and struggle, but during the brief time I was blessed to know him, I never saw a glimpse of that. As the song from then musical Wicked says, I have been changed by knowing him.

because I knew you

It’s hard to say goodbye, isn’t it? Even at times when the goodbye isn’t necessarily permanent, the very word seems to stick in our heart like a barb. It isn’t supposed to be like this, our heart cries! My time with this person was supposed to be longer! I never got the chance to say thank you or I’m sorry or whatever it is we so desperately want to say when the option no longer exists.

As I listened to the sermon during this somber event, the pastor of the church indicated that God didn’t intend for us to say goodbye; that our need to do so only exists because of the fall of man in the garden. While this may not be a popular opinion, I beg to differ.

I don’t, as I’ve said in the past, believe that God makes mistakes. Therefore, it only logically follows that God absolutely created us to feel loss and ache at the departure of people and things we love. To me, to believe otherwise means that God neither foresaw Adam and Eve partaking of the fruit nor planned for the repercussions thereafter. For me, my God is bigger than that. He knew before He created a single microorganism that we would fail. Actually, to me, He created us to do so because the bigger plan was dependent upon our human curiosity to overtake our desire to obey.

Sounds contrary to probably everything you have ever been taught, but follow me on this for a moment.

Without failure, we would never learn that we need God. We would mindlessly follow, devoid of passion or conviction. The God I believe in wants so much more for us than that.

 

I believe that God created the ability for us to sin so we would learn to turn to Him; that he created the ability to stumble so we would feel the security of being carried; the ability to mourn losses great and small so that we could know the full breadth of love.

Love is bigger than happiness and joy. It aches with yearning, cries out with pain, and sobs uncontrollably for endings. The ability to feel these things is what makes love such a unique and complex emotion and is the one thing that makes us truly a part of God.

At times like this – the death of a friend or loved one – it certainly doesn’t seem like much of a gift, but it truly is.

Without the depths of despair that loss brings we would never fully realize the heights of bliss that are also part of our emotional spectrum.

Perhaps more importantly, without the stillness that comes with loss we would never come to experience the excitement of renewal. If nothing ever left our lives, there would be no need for us to reach out for something new – a new hobby,  a new friend, a new life experience. The life that God envisioned for us would not exist.

Maybe it seems odd to say, but I would absolutely choose the life of emotional ups and downs over a life of status quo. It seems to me that God created me to be able to feel these things so I could know Him more fully; so I could more fully grasp the extent of His love for me and the purpose He has for my life.

shelby quote

I know what you’re thinking. What kind of sadistic god would want me to suffer?

The thing is, it’s not that He wants us to suffer per se, but  that He wants us to realize that through these experiences we can grow to be so much more that who we were before them. Oh sure, we can choose to wallow in self-pity for the rest of out lives, or we can change.

As I thought about how this particular death was calling me to change, I took a moment to look around the sanctuary all of the various people who had been affected by this person – and it hit me.

I desire to make a difference the way my friend did. No, I’m not going to take up brass instruments and try to teach or try to replicate his life. That would just be silly and I would be an utter failure. But what I am going to do is make a conscious effort to be that person that makes others feel welcome and comfortable; to be that person that creates a sense of peace and laughter.

On the day of my first gig with the band I met this wonderful man in, I was nervous and felt uncertain of my ability to carry the role I had been given. This man not only told me at every opportunity that I was doing a great job, but caught my eye to do silly things like use his horn as a dancing snake making me laugh and relax. This is the piece of my friend I want to carry forward.

Thanks to my friend, I am going to work harder to reflect the characteristics of God to others so they can feel His presence in their lives, even when they don’t realize that’s what they feel.

I only hope that when I meet him in heaven, he will be able to see the change he made in me and the way I was able to carry the torch for him.